Today’s Treasures – Summer – VE Day and Bank Holidays
Summer traditionally starts on 1st May at Beltane – the fire festival. Bonfires were lit to honour the Sun and encourage the support of Bel and the Sun’s light to nurture the emerging future harvest and protect the community. Houses were adorned with hawthorn blossoms – hawthorn was only brought into the home at Beltane – at other times it was considered unlucky.
The pagan practice of Mayday was disliked by the state. In 1645, the Puritan, Oliver Cromwell described maypole dancing as ‘heathenish wickedness’ and banned village maypoles – as well as closing theatres. Charles II was a much more conservative and tolerant king and when he came to power he re-opened theatres that had been closed by the Puritans – life in Britain was much more fun during the reign of Charles II so it’s understandable why 29th May was celebrated as Oak Apple Day and became a public holiday.
It commemorates the occasion after the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, when Charles II escaped the Roundhead army by hiding in an oak tree near Boscobel House. He subsequently fled to Europe. Traditionally, people wore oak apples or sprigs of oak leaves. Charles II survived the Black Death – in 1665 the death toll from the plague reached 7,000 per week – and in 1666 he and his brother James helped direct the fire crews during the Great Fire of London.
Today, being in the middle of another life-threatening crisis, VE Day celebrations to mark the end of World War II in Europe 75 years ago were somewhat subdued but nevertheless thought-provoking. Britain still has the courage and resilience of the British people all those years ago, the power that Churchill had with words that spoke to the British people – he refused to surrender and inspired everyone that by working together we could win our freedom – and we did.
Churchill opening the Winston Bar in Berlin in 1945
On Thursday evenings, that same British spirit supports our keyworkers, our doctors and nurses at the front line of a different sort of battle – to win the war against this virus that threatens to overwhelm us. When we stand on our doorsteps clapping, we remember the spirit of those who fought during the war – on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets, in the hills – and – like them – we shall never surrender.
Cheer up, Brian. You know what they say.
Some things in life are bad,
They can really make you mad.
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle,
Don’t grumble, give a whistle!
And this’ll help things turn out for the best
Always look on the bright side of life!
If life seems jolly rotten,
There’s something you’ve forgotten!
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing,
When you’re feeling in the dumps,
Don’t be silly chumps,
Just purse your lips and whistle — that’s the thing!
And always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the bright side of life
For life is quite absurd,
And death’s the final word.
You must always face the curtain with a bow!
Forget about your sin — give the audience a grin,
Enjoy it, it’s the last chance anyhow!
So always look on the bright side of death!
Just before you draw your terminal breath.
Life’s a piece of shit,
When you look at it.
Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true,
You’ll see it’s all a show,
Keep ’em laughing as you go.
Just remember that the last laugh is on you!
And always look on the bright side of life
Come on guys, cheer up
Worse things happen at sea you know
Always look on the bright side of life
I mean, what have you got to lose?
you know, you come from nothing
you’re going back to nothing
what have you lost? Nothing!
Always look on the bright side of life
Thanks Eric Idle and Monty Python for making us laugh when times are grim!
For Mother’s Day my son bought me a heart with this on it – it’s now displayed in the kitchen and every morning it makes me smile – and reminds me to count my blessings. Eric Idle always makes me laugh.
Always look on the bright side of life If life seems jolly rotten, There’s something you’ve forgotten! And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing, When you’re feeling in the dumps, Don’t be silly chumps, Just purse your lips and whistle — that’s the thing! And always look on the bright side of life
As I write, all hotels, cafes, restaurants have been closed, all events cancelled, and a lot of people are in isolation – but at least it’s finally stopped raining and the sun is shining – winter is over and summer is just around the corner.
People have discovered that they really do not need to travel so much – it’s possible to work from home – and it’s relatively easy to hold a board meeting online.
Families are discovering each other – and finding things to do together. Books, jigsaws and family games have come out of hibernation and everyone is learning about home education. We home-educated two of our children (under very different circumstances!) and there’s a book telling our story on https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=barbara+rainford&ref=nb_sb_noss
As our family watched Boris Johnson last night, it reminded me of my mother telling me about the war – and how everyone used to huddle around the radio to listen to Churchill – and how he inspired everyone with his speeches: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” My son remarked: “At least we are fighting a virus now, not other people.” And it’s only toilet rolls that are rationed!
So here’s some happy pictures to cheer everyone up.
We can still dance and sing, enjoy music and films, sit in the sunshine and watch the butterflies. The flowers are still growing, the birds are still singing, the fruit trees are in bud, the bees are busy and the buttercups will soon be out again.
Our ancestors celebrated the changing seasons with special ceremonies that marked nature’s cycles. Country wisdom and folklore have been passed down the generations and, despite the adoption of many days by the church, the Pagan customs still remain and we often celebrate them just as our ancestors did.
21st March – Ostara – is the Spring Equinox – The pagan Saxons would bake ‘cross buns’ at the beginning of spring in honour of the German goddess Eostre – Ostara – most likely being the origin of the name Easter. The cross represented the rebirth of the world after winter and the four quarters of the moon, as well as the four seasons and the wheel of life. Hence the origin of hot-cross buns. The daffodil symbolises rebirth and new beginnings.
23rd April – St. George’s Day – the Patron Saint of England – There is more myth than fact in the story of St. George who, according to the story of The Golden Legend, slayed a dragon and saved a princess – but the story was incorporated into Pagan plays and St. George is a prime figure in the famous epic poem The Fairie Queen portrayed as the Redcrosse Knight. April 23rd (the date of his death) used to be a public holiday, now we celebrate with wearing a red rose – and parades – St. George is the patron saint of scouting.
1st May – May Day – Beltane is a Fire Festival honouring the Sun – traditionally all fires were put out and a special fire was kindled for Beltane. The maypole is a symbol of fertility, the many coloured ribbons and the ensuing weaving dance symbolise the spiral of life and the union of the Goddess and God, the union between Earth and Sky. The Young Oak King falls in love with the May Queen and wins her hand. The pagan practice of Mayday was disliked by the state. In 1645 Oliver Cromwell described maypole dancing as ‘heathenish wickedness’ and banned village maypoles. The Green Man Festival is held every year in Clun with Morris Dancing, music, entertainment and a battle re-enactment on Clun bridge.
29th May – Oak Apple Day – This commemorates the occasion after the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, when Charles II escaped the Roundhead army by hiding in an oak tree near Boscobel House. Traditionally people wore oak apples or sprigs of oak leaves. The oak tree – or one of its descendants can still be seen in the grounds of Boscobel House and you can also see the priest’s hole where Charles II subsequently hid.
It’s good to celebrate these special days – with a family feast – lighting candles and drinking a toast to our ancestors who were much closer to nature than we are today.
Published in the March edition of the Whitchurch Gossip
When we first found our dream home, the sun was shining on golden chains of laburnum and frothy pink cherry blossom. The wooden farm gate was open and as we walked down the drive wild birds fluttered away – and – I remember quite clearly – a jay flew across into the field – the first jay I had ever seen.
The house was totally empty – not even a light bulb was left – but it still felt warm and welcoming and we fell in love with it. The garden was neglected – no flowers – but the grass had been cut and there were lots of trees. The traditional Rowan tree by the back door to ward off evil – and a beautiful spruce tree – which we later found out is a Brewer’s Spruce.
We moved in on 3rd August, 1992 with two-year old Dane and Kirt on the way (born the following January), one border collie, two cats and 3 ducks – and lots of ideas for homesteading.
One of the first things I did was visit the local library to borrow books on sheep, pigs and donkeys (google wasn’t around then). After talking to local farmers, I soon realised that it is much easier to have someone else’s livestock in your fields – all the pleasure of sheep bleating in the morning without the problems of dipping, shearing and all the form filling – so that’s what we did.
But we bought some hens and geese to keep our ducks company – and later on I started breeding New Zealand White rabbits again.
With 4 acres, the possibilities were endless.
There was a massive shed for the poultry – which they all shared quite happily.
The conservatory on the side of the house was perfect for growing seedlings – I started out with growing flowers – and had soon filled the patio with tubs and hanging baskets – and some vegetables – potatoes and broad beans – and runner beans. Initially I dug a small vegetable patch which has gradually been extended year after year until it’s now big enough to grow everything – courgettes, pumpkins, onions, strawberries, purple sprouting – all sorts of vegetables – and a rhubarb bed.
I also grew my own herbs from seed. I had brought spearmint and applemint with me – cuttings originally from my aunt – whose green fingers I inherited. When Kirt started home-schooling one of the first things we did was to make a proper herb garden – we marked out squares with bricks and gradually filled them – then extended them. The herb garden now contains Rosemary, Bay, Sage, Thyme, Hyssop, Fennel, Lovage, Parsley, Feverfew, Lemon Mint, Oregano, Marjoram, Tarragon – and the latest addition – Angelica – which is a magnificent plant.
I used to dry herbs and hang them up in the conservatory – and freeze some (like mint) in ice cube trays. Now I dry some herbs in the warming oven, chop them in the blender and store in jars – but I also freeze some in small plastic bags which are perfect for soups and mint sauce – and retain the flavour better.
Mint and horseradish have their own separate spaces as they do tend to be rather rampant. And basil and coriander were grown in the conservatory as they like to be a bit warmer – and also the slugs love them! They were later relocated in the polytunnel.
I also found that dried herbs make wonderful firelighters – when cutting them down in the Autumn, tie them into bundles and hang up to dry. They are much better than – and greener – than traditional firelighters – ad because of the oils they contain – they work exceedingly well.
Dad bought us some apple trees and a greengage and we bought some blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and a loganberry. A friend gave us a cutting of a thornless blackberry – and some raspberry plants. Loganberries, blackberries and raspberries all need lots of space – and need cutting back vigorously every year.
Fruits are wonderful for homesteading – when you have made enough jams you can use the rest for making country wines. Home-made jams taste divine. Wines are a bit more hit and miss – but they are always good for cooking – and elderberry wine makes excellent mulled wine mixed with sugar and spices.
When I lived in Birmingham, I used to breed New Zealand White rabbits – and I had brought all the equipment with me – so we found some breeding stock and started again. Baby rabbits are born blind, deaf and without any fur – but, by the time they are 3 weeks old, they are little white furry balls hopping around and they are absolutely gorgeous. Rabbit manure is excellent for the garden so makes a wonderful addition to my natural recycling programme. Rabbits like lots of wild plants like comfrey, clover and wild garlic – as well as dandelion leaves – and carrot leaves are their absolute favourite.
So we don’t have a green bin to put out for the refuse collectors. We have a compost bin, the rabbits eat a lot of the weeds, the hens eat scraps from the kitchen (their favourite is bacon rinds but you are not really supposed to give them meat!), the dog has meat scraps and the cats demolish most of the chicken bones. And the ducks eat the slugs and snails. I have also seen the hens eat mice and frogs on occasions.
When digging over the vegetable garden in winter, pause for thought and watch the hens scratching about for worms – stop for a cup of tea and return to find the robin sitting on the spade handle waiting for titbits.
The trees are amazing, here is the beech tree through the seasons
There’s a beautiful silver birch and a really old willow tree – which the boys loved to climb when they were little.
This is the oak tree in the field – with broom growing beneath it.
Some of the hedges are ancient hedgerows with blackthorn, hawthorn, ash, alder, beech, hazel and oak, interwoven with brambles and honeysuckle.
We kept part of the field as a wildflower meadow with ox-eye daisies, bird’s foot trefoil, knapweed, restharrow, pink campion and lots of different grasses. The butterflies love it and I have spent wonderful sunny summer afternoons counting holly blues, commas and painted ladies – and peacocks, red admirals and small tortoiseshells on the buddleia – and joining in the Big Butterfly Count.
JANUARY is the time when all the garden catalogues arrive and you can spend hours deciding what you would like to plant – the only problem with having enough room to grow everything is restricting yourself to what you can physically manage.
I soon learned what grew well on our sandy soil – and what our family would eat – which were not always the same things! Peas are definitely better from Bird’s Eye. By the time you have grown them from seed, planted them, protected them from pigeons, fed them, picked them and podded them – it’s blindingly obvious that frozen peas are a much more sensible alternative.
The first winter I was absolutely delighted to discover at least 3 different varieties of snowdrops growing in the garden, closely followed by celandines and coltsfoot.
There’s a badger sett in the big field – our neighbour says it’s been there as long as he can remember. Badgers make scuffs in the ground looking for worms and truffles so you can see when they have reappeared from hibernation. There’s also rabbits and moles – so our field is a sort of combination of Wind in the Willows, Watership Down and Duncton Wood. There’s an ancient beech tree – Queen Fagus – and an oak tree – King Quercus – and on our morning walks we often hug a tree – we can only just reach around the beech tree – finger-tips touching!
The variety of birds is simply amazing – the first time the Great-Spotted Woodpecker graced us with his presence I was simply dumbfounded. He is so beautiful – he loves peanuts but also sunflower seeds.
I have also seen a kestrel perched on the fence – and a sparrowhawk on the table outside the kitchen window. Buzzards are often seen being chased by crows – and the finches and tits love the pine trees.
We’ve put bird boxes up and the great tits and blue tits use them – but the blackbirds, robins and wrens prefer to make their own nests in various places in the barn – especially in the holly wreaths that I hang up ready for renewing the following Christmas.
The frogs return to the pond and you can hear them burbling late into the evening, then frogspawn appears and gradually morphs into tadpoles.
Best of all, the birds start singing in the mornings and we open the bedroom window to listen to the liquid notes of the blackbird floating in on the breeze.
The daffodils are out – at one time there must have been a hedge in the big field but all that remains now are three clumps of daffodils.
“I wandered lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o’er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd – a host of golden daffodils” – which I believe was written about Stourhead – but daffodils always remind me of this poem.
Seed sowing starts in earnest. My Dad bought me a small propagator which is marvellous for starting off difficult things that like the warmth – courgettes, tomatoes and pumpkins – and sweet peas – I used to have real trouble getting sweet peas to germinate until last year I bought some Eckford Sweet peas – an old fashioned variety – which grew really well
Time also to plant early potatoes – and the first rhubarb appears – lovely and sweet and tender at this time of year – perfect for rhubarb crumble.
APRIL – the swallows return, swirling and swooping over the fields.
Oh, to be in England Now that April’s there … While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough In England—now … Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge Leans to the field and scatters on the clover Blossoms and dewdrops—
The apple blossom appears – the crab apple tree first almost luminescent in the twilight of lengthening evenings. The blue tits and great tits are busily feeding chicks, popping in and out of nest boxes.
The yellow flag irises are out in the wild pond
Beltane 1st May – the first day of summer in the ancient Celtic calendar – and the Druid celebration of fertility when the Lady of the Land takes the hand of the Horned God. We celebrate with lots of flowers in the house, music – and lighting candles.
Time to plant runner beans and French beans in pots – ready for planting out once the last frosts have gone. Dig a bean trench and fill it with compost from the compost bin – and put the bean sticks up. Plenty of hazel trees in the field hedgerows to cut bean sticks from.
Clear out pots and hanging baskets ready for geraniums, lobelia, impatiens and petunias – lots of colour for the summer patio.
The elderflowers are in full bloom – ready to make elderflower cordial and elderflower champagne.
The cushions are put out on the chairs around the patio table ready for breakfasts in the early morning sunshine – and summer barbecues. We always celebrate Midsummer Eve – like the Moomin family – it’s a special day – with music and dancing outside under the stars. In the past we had to rig up a speaker with wires connected to a stereo – now we just have a Bluetooth speaker and a mobile phone!
New potatoes, broad beans and strawberries are all ready to pick. There’s nothing like broad beans fresh from the garden – and I love podding them – sitting on the bench in the sunshine. Small sweet broad beans only take 5 minutes to cook. New potatoes, freshly dug, cooked with mint and melting with butter are divine!
JULY Hot summer days, the patio is a riot of colour. The great tits are busy feeding their brood on the bird table. Last year Daisy, our Dorking hen, hatched 4 chicks and Jemima, one of the Indian Runner ducks hatched 4 ducklings. Amazing to watch the chicks crowding around mum, as she pecks corn into tiny pieces for them to eat. When the ducklings are a few days old we give them a bigger bowl of shallow water so they can have their first swim – they get so excited and whiz around the bowl quacking ecstatically.
The raspberries are ripe – and the ducklings love them. Raspberry jam – and jelly – and raspberry wine. Blackcurrants also make delicious jam and wine – and redcurrants for redcurrant jelly to eat with chicken – and turkey at Christmas.
The poppies are out
AUGUST – shooting stars – lying on the trampoline on quilts and blankets looking at the stars – and spotting wishing stars – and planes and satellites – and watching the bats across the darkening sky.
The sunflowers are out
The butterflies are at their best and I can spend ages watching them on the buddleia – and on the ragwort with the bees and the stripy cinnabar moth caterpillars
“What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare …”
1st August is Lughnasadh or Lammas and marks the first day of harvest – when corn dollies were made from the first straw and bread from the first wheat.
Time to lift onions and set them out to dry before tying into ropes.
Courgettes tend to be rather prolific at this time of year and I’ve been quite inventive in using them up before they turn into marrows. Curries, soups, salads, all benefit from the addition of grated courgettes. They are of course best fried in a little butter!
The greengages are ripe – I found the best time to pick them is when it’s raining – as there aren’t many wasps about. They are the sweetest plums and best eaten fresh – although they are also good bottled for winter use.
SEPTEMBER – the harvest – I am usually picking runner beans and freezing them – and picking tomatoes – and skinning them, chopping them and freezing them in tubs to use in Bolognese, curries and soups.
Blackberries are ripe for blackberry jam and blackberry wine – along with loganberries and elderberries. One year I made a ‘many berry wine’ from a mixture of fruits left in the freezer – and elderberries.
Rose hips are ripe – they contain lots of vitamin C (twenty times more than oranges) – ideal for keeping winter coughs and colds away. During the war – when there were no oranges – children were given rose hip syrup from the Ministry of Health. Rose hip syrup is quite easy to make – it makes a lovely summer drink with ice cubes – and a warming winter toddy diluted with hot water.
Time to pick apples and store them for winter use – the rabbits love them and so do geese. One of the pleasures of keeping livestock is enjoying watching them eat titbits – during the summer the rabbits have lots of plants from the garden – in winter it’s mainly apples and carrot tops.
Hallowe’en is always special – The Samhain festival marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter and we have a sort of combined Guy Fawkes and Hallowee’en around the weekend of 31st October – with a bonfire and sparklers – and ‘Jack’o’Lanterns. There’s a lovely story about ‘Stingy Jack’ and how is destined to roam the earth with his Jack’O’Lantern. https://barbararainford.co.uk/halloween-in-barbaras-back-yard/
The last few years we have had an Indian Summer and the days have been really sunny although the nights are drawing in. Runner beans have carried on cropping into November – when the first frosts finally finish them off – and the nasturtiums are ‘gone willy-nilly, umbrella and all’.
For the last few years I have made an autumn wreath with berries and crab apples and hung it on the bird table, the birds don’t seem to be very interested, but it looks very pretty.
Time to clear the garden, remove the rest of the weeds, take down the bean sticks and tidy up the herb garden. Cutting down or pruning the herbs I found a really good use for the cuttings – I dry them on top of one of the wire hen pens and then tie them into bundles, hang them up to dry in the barn, and they make really good firelighters – and much better than those smelly paraffin alternatives!
Time also to pick holly – before the birds pinch all the berries – and store ready to make holly wreaths.
1st December is Yule – make a Yule Log with holly and pine cones and candles for the table – and holly wreaths with moss and holly and ivy, laurel and spruce and hang them on the old front door – and the barn door. I always think about all the other people in times gone by who have hung a holly wreath on the very same doors hundreds of years ago. Although the house has five bedrooms it has been extended at least 3 times and must have been originally a traditional cottage with two rooms downstairs, 2 bedrooms and a thatched roof. The study still has the original oak beams and thick sandstone walls – and a fireplace which must once have been an old range.
There must be lots of secrets that have never been uncovered – there’s a wall safe that’s never been opened; when we extended to connect the studio to the main house, the roof beams were exposed and you could see the remains of the burnt timbers where we assume the thatch caught fire. There are still some old wide floorboards on the landing.
We’ve installed a wood burner and it’s wonderful to curl up in front of a real fire on a Sunday afternoon with a good book – sometimes watching snowflakes swirl outside or with a glass of mulled wine on a winter evening.
December we usually visit Croft Ambrey to see the mistletoe on the hawthorn trees – and bring a small piece home. There’s nowhere to hang it because the ceilings are so low so it hangs over the Yule log on the dresser.
Our Christmas tree always comes from Holly Farm Nursery just up the road – all their trees are grown locally at Fauls Christmas Tree Farm so are very carbon friendly.
Maynards Farm, two doors down, provide local geese, turkeys and hams for Christmas dinner and we save the last of the parsnips, potatoes and carrots to go with them. We have home-made apple sauce and redcurrant jelly. One year I even managed to grow some sprouts and cauliflower that survived the pigeons and slugs – which were delicious!
And so to New Year and the circle of life begins again.
One of the wonderful things about wintry mornings is the increased activity on the bird table. The birds really seem to appreciate my efforts to fill up bird feeders and thaw out the bird bath.
The robin, resplendent in his bright red winter waistcoat sedately pecks at the sunflower seeds. A rival arrives – as often happens on cold frosty mornings – and is crossly chased away.
A blue tit perches on the edge of the birdbath and takes dainty sips of fresh water. Belinda and Bertie raised a family of blue tits this summer – it was fascinating to watch them feeding their tiny babies on the bird table.
The nutchatches – Nigel and Nolly – creep around the tree trunks then take turns taking peanuts from the feeder.
Then the Twits – a flock of long-tailed tits that always arrive in a flurry of chirps and fluttering wings – take over all the bird feeders, scrapping for perching space.
The great tits Colonel Twist (due to his having a wonky tail) and Lady P (Penelope) wait patiently for the Twits to fly off before resuming their feeding.
A blackbird scurries along to the bird seed sprinkled on the ground and busily tucks into a grain feast before the hens arrive and clear up.
Woody the woodpecker loves peanuts and can often be spotted in the garden with his undulating flight and unusual cry – and peck, peck, pecking on the dead pine tree looking for insects.
There’s a selection of finches – goldfinches with their little red and yellow heads and chaffinches, and, when it’s been really cold, we are sometimes honoured with the presence of a bullfinch or the odd visit from a siskin, or brambling.
Unwelcome visitors that thankfully are seen very infrequently are kestrels and sparrowhawks. In the summer the little birds are safe in the leafy green cover of the roses and honeysuckle; in the winter the branches are bare – except for the ivy which offers welcome cover as well as berries to eat.
There’s no knowing what the cat will do next – but I believe he is actually watching the little mouse that lives in the rockery and uses the bottom of the bird stand as a tunnel, popping in and out collecting seeds.
Published in the February edition of the Whitchurch Gossip
“When winter winds blow cold and chill, it cannot be denied, the nicest place of all my friends, is by our own fireside.”
Autumn has been so wet and miserable, I am really looking forward to some frosty mornings this winter – but when the frost does arrive, my freezing fingers feeding the hens will no doubt wish it was warm and wet again!
We need things to cheer us up during the dull January days. Although the nights are slowly getting shorter, we don’t really notice the difference until we reach Candlemas Day – 2nd February. And while we wait for the snowdrops to appear, poking their tiny white heads through the frozen ground to herald spring, it’s good to have some ideas to brighten up the winter days.
So what’s good about winter – a blazing log fire – and a good book – firelight, watching the flames flickering shadows across the room. Lighting candles – there’s some beautiful scented candles now – vanilla is one of my favourites but there’s some lovely winter scents of mulberry and spice to warm up winter nights too. Mulled wine and warm sausage rolls are also good for cheering up dismal wintry evenings.
Houseplants always brighten up winter gloom – as Cyclamen fade, amaryllis flower and hyacinths fill rooms with the fresh scents of spring.
The bird table is always busy in winter – and the colder it is – the more birds seem to arrive looking for food and water. Thawing out the bird bath on frosty mornings is always worth the effort to see the birds glad of a drink of fresh water. Goldfinches come for niger seeds, nuthatches and woodpeckers love peanuts, and the robin loves showing off his red winter waistcoat. A little mouse also found our bird table!
And, if all else fails, and you still feel miserable looking out at our dreary English winter, remember Spring is just around the corner and it won’t be long before we’re walking in the sunshine down to the beach again.
Published in the January edition of the Whitchurch Gossip
Every cloud has a silver lining – and the exceedingly wet weather we have had this Autumn has been wonderful for fungi – toadstools have literally popped up all over the place. They are fascinating because they change shape every day, expanding, then wilting, then popping up somewhere else.
Fungi are not plants or animals; they have their own kingdom which includes microscopic yeasts and the largest living organisms. Fungi are essential in forest eco-systems – their recycling capabilities are vital as they efficiently break down wood, preventing dead wood and leaves building up – and they recycle nutrients back into the soil.
The mushroom that we see is only part of the organism – the mushroom produces spores – like a flower produces seeds, allowing it to reproduce. The main body of the fungus is formed of the fine threads called the mycelium that stretch out beneath the mushroom and often grow with the roots of plants, The fungus provides the plant with water and nutrients that it can’t get easily from the soil – and the plant provides the fungus with sugars, produced during photosynthesis.
Toadstools have always featured in folklore – they are mysterious – appearing overnight – like magic. In the Middle Ages fairy rings were believed to be fairy dancing circles – and stepping into a ring was not recommended – you might fall asleep for a hundred years – or be whisked away to the faery world – never to return. Welsh legends were more positive – believing that fairy rings signified fertility and fortune. We now know that a ring of toadstools simply marks the edge of a fungus colony.
Mushrooms have long been used by ancient cultures., Hippocrates records their anti-inflammatory properties, the North American Indians recognised their wound-healing capabilities. The Druids used the hallucinogenic properties of toadstools in some of their rituals. Mushrooms are rich in bioactive compounds including disease-fighting antioxidants, but modern science has only recently rediscovered what the ancients knew long ago – that mushrooms can be deep reservoirs of powerful medicine.
Amazingly, 90% of plants rely on fungi to live – and there will be many species of fungi that we have not discovered yet. Fungi already provide us with many things including medicines – and – as they include yeast – we make wine, beer and bread with them – but, in the future, they could well provide the solutions to many of the problems facing humanity – such as unlocking sustainable sources of food. Fungi can feed us, heal us, kill us – or send us on a spiritual journey – they might also save us!
Published in the December edition of the Whitchurch Gossip
Blackberry Fair not only lived up to its reputation – it excelled itself – there was more music than ever which reached to all corners of the town – right down to Green End – where the birds of prey sat bemused but not at all phased by the guitar rhythms and drumbeats. This living, breathing celebration of music, song, dance, poetry and street theatre, stretched from the Bull Ring to the Black Bear and beyond – and attracted more visitors than ever -enjoying local food, real ale, mouth-watering fudge, freshly-baked pizzas, and real beef burgers – all accompanied by street music wherever you went in this normally tranquil, market town.
The civic centre was transformed into the fae market – a fantasy fairyland – a fairy forest full of customs and crafts, live music and tales from the wood. The market hall became a hive of activity with skateboarding, go-karting and bushcraft, making masks for the pirate procession later.
Sustainability is what Blackberry Fair is all about – a carnival filled with the rustic spirit of nature, growing things, Meres and Mosses with pedal power, the Wild Zone, carbon capture, scarecrows, recycling, herbs and herbalists, Surfers Against Sewage, Wise Whales Words; this Fairtrade town attracts artists, poets, actors, dancers, singers and musicians; becomes a haven for food enthusiasts, real beer drinkers, nature lovers, photographers and writers. It inspires, fires the imagination, screams innovation; young and old are all captivated, drawn into the spirit of creativity and sustainability – saving the earth.
The afternoon culminates in the Carnival of Action, celebrating the spirit of harvest with Morris dancers, stilt-walkers, and fire breathers – and the music carries on into the evening with incredible poetry and music and dancing into the night with THE POOKA’S POLKA and BAKED A LA SKA