Monthly Archives: May 2012

Collective noun: a persistence of plants? a constancy of columbine?


I’ve lived here for years and years, and never planted an aquilegia, yet they still pop up.

Mostly they have interbred themselves back towards a small, modest flower like their wild columbine ancestor.

Occasionally, however, we get something like this:

Or even like this, with a ravishing millinery of  fluting and goffering on the outside:

and some wonderful plications inside:

Now that’s what I call a bonnet any granny would be proud of.

An honour unto which I did not aspire


Thank you to Sharon for nominating me for the Versatile Blogger Award – I’m glad you are enjoying the posts.  Sharon’s blog is called A Number of Things and I’m not sure if I’m allowed to nominate her straight back, as she includes all sorts of writing, photography, reading, reflections on current events and more.

I’ll have to apologise about the 15 blogs as I don’t really have time to read that many, and versatility is in the eye of the beholder.  But here are some of my favourites (in the order I found them):

Wrong Hands – perpetually inventive cartoons

Middle Savagery – the inside line on being an archaeologist

TextHistory – Barb delves into the amazing details of her home city’s history

Astronomersden – practical and personal astronomy

Musings from a Stonehead – crofting is not for the faint-hearted

The Illustrator – her own character-full drawings and paintings

Lifelong Dewey – reading a book from every main category of the Dewey Decimal System

Lillabullero – literature and photography, music and football, and points of view

Because they’re there … – walking, climbing, curiosities, opinions

What they have in common is having their own individual voice and blogging purpose, a sense of humour, and an element of unpredictability, so when a notification email arrives, I instantly want to know what they’ve been up to now.

To the named bloggers: if this nomination makes any of you feel that you have just received a chain letter from a dodgy source, let me know and I will delete the reference from this post.  But in any case, keep blogging chaps, you enliven the day.

Now then, I’m supposed to say seven things about me?  These are about me as I write:



North:  Old silver

North: Old silver

North east: old books

North east: old books

East:  Print

East: Print

South east:  Latest seedlings

South east: Latest seedlings

South: Solar filter with built-in health and safety system

South: Solar filter with built-in health and safety system

South west:  Hat

South west: Hat

West:  Glass

West: Glass

North west:  Trees in mist

North west: Trees in mist

I did check the compass

I did check the compass


Of course it came out eight, and one for the pivot in the middle, because seven points of the compass is just silly.

Not looking, but paying attention


My 5″ scope is a good little thing, but rarely shows more than three or four of Saturn’s moons.  Since getting the 10″ I’ve been too fascinated by the planet itself to pay proper attention to its moons, but the eyepiece cleaning session was part of a moon campaign.   I also fiddled with Stellarium until I could generate a finder chart for eight of the moons (three more than on the Sky and Telescope online utility) because if I know where to look, it helps me learn how to look.

Last night I had one narrow hour of possible observing between our own Moon going behind the house, and Saturn dropping into the hedge.  I aligned the finders while I waited, collimated the secondary as well as the primary, inserted one of my shiny eyepieces, and peered.

That cleaning was worth the bother.  I could see five moons in a crisp little bevy, and studying the proper place I located Mimas almost at once – my first definite sighting of this one.  Hyperion was a challenge too far; remote from any convenient markers on which to triangulate, and the faintest of the eight, it was excessively difficult to not look at the possible location (averted vision a sine qua non), while paying it the most concentrated attention.

After uncrossing my eyes, there was just time to hunt for Iapetus.  Brighter than Mimas, out on its own like Hyperion, but with a handy star to use as a locator – I found a something at the approximate place.  Unfortunately I found two somethings, and I can’t account for the second.  Eyestrain artefact?  Background star omitted by Stellarium? I’m fairly confident about Iapetus, though, so that’s probably another first.

A heavy dew was falling, and I knew I would have to get up this morning, so I reluctantly called time. And tonight it is cloudy again.

Mere housework


Eyelashes are filthy things.  This I deduce from the amount of gunk on my eyepieces.  Of course there are also the occasions when I have dropped the eyepieces in the garden, absentmindedly stored them in a fluffy pocket, handled them while eating toast and so forth.

It was time for a clean.  For the longer eyepieces, with larger lens surfaces, I brushed lightly to remove dust, then used ordinary spectacle cleaning wipes.  I reckon if it’s good enough for my Zeiss varifocal antiglare extra-thin glasses, it’s good enough for the bottom-of-the-range Plossls which came with my telescopes.

The shorter Plossls with small diameter lenses, and the Celestron X-cel eyepieces, were treated to the lens pen kit.  It was a bit pricey, but then who wouldn’t want a dinky set of four special magic cleaners in different sizes with their own private little built in retractable brushes?

They seemed to remove the eye grease, anyway.

The watering round


The vegetables take a lot of watering at the moment.  There are a few more impressive stopping points than my infant kale and leggy tomato plants:


Grows remarkably well on the site of a spill from the oil tank - puzzling

Grows remarkably well on the site of a spill from the oil tank – puzzling

We waited a long time for this to establish

We waited a long time for this to establish

All a rose should be - perfect bud, floppy flower, scented, colour-changing.

All a rose should be – perfect bud, floppy flower, scented, colour-changing.

Unassuming flowers on a rampant shrub

Unassuming flowers on a rampant shrub

Why can't my camera render a deep purple?

Why can’t my camera render a deep purple?

Faithful Iceberg always tries to deliver

Faithful Iceberg always tries to deliver

As darkness falls L D Braithwaite seems to grow impossibly redder and redder

As darkness falls L D Braithwaite seems to grow impossibly redder and redder


Jelly from potatoes


I’ve spent all day sieving things.

First there was the nettle plant food.  When decanting and straining it, it’s wise to ensure the jugs and bottles can’t tip over into your shoes.  A peg for the nose seems like a good idea.  The slimy remains go to enliven the compost bin.

Provident housekeepers collect some bottles beforehand, rather than having to rummage for the nearly empty ones at the back of the cupboard.

More seed compost to be made.  I think it does help with the tiny seeds, though the beans probably don’t care.

A job I have been putting off:  as the glaze buckets haven’t been touched for so long, the glazes need to be sent through a fine sieve to deal with lumps, ingredients which have settled out, insect corpses etc.

Then, taking a hint from Alice Thomas Ellis (see previous post) I tried the recipe she quotes for making jelly from potatoes.  First grate your potatoes (I’ve lost my shredding disc, so just chopped them in the processor).

Stir grated potato thoroughly in a good quantity of water, and strain into a jug.  Allow the water to settle, then carefully pour off the clear liquid to find a layer of fine starch grains below. At this point, it no longer smells of potato.

Add boiling water, stirring furiously, to make a jelly.  Bizarrely, this works.

I then made some more potato starch and a syrup from blackcurrants and sugar, and added the boiling syrup to the starch instead of water. I then set it in the fridge.  The consistency is a bit odd, tending to drool off the spoon like a giant amoeba, but it’s definitely edible, perhaps with a little cream or ice cream or some fresh fruit as garnish.

Perhaps I should reassure everyone that I don’t plan to try the candied mice.

How to candy a mouse. Yes, really.


Much fun to be had in these pages, and some squirm-making moments too, in a mixture of the history of cooking (based on what is obviously a wide acquaintance with ancient cook books), reflections on food, and personal foody experiences.  Alice Thomas Ellis denies any attempt at scholarship, so one can settle down for a jolly ramble through chapters entitled  From Cradle to Gravy, The Servant Problem, In the Soup, Another Man’s Poison and so forth.  She is concerned mainly with British food and cookery, but makes a few digressions to the US and Europe.  She has an eye for the social implications of the food she describes, as well as a high sense of social comedy, and her own family members emerge, rather touchingly, at intervals through her narrative.

Oh yes, the mice:  see page 31.  Apparently the trick is to tie their tails to a wooden spoon laid across a pan filled with heavy sugar syrup.  “They were delicious … the bones were crisp and edible …”.

The awesome stench


It’s a presence right across the back garden.  It coils on the breeze.  It is spreading out sinister tendrils almost to the back door.  It invites investigation by the police, or at least by Environmental Health.

I refer, of course, to the nettle brew.  Our brief heatwave has incubated it with alarming speed, and although I don’t know quite how long it is meant to take, I think ‘enough’ had better be soon.

Coiffeuse to pigs


One of our guinea pigs is smooth-coated.  Lucky for him.

It’s much less bother

As for the other – it would be an understatement to say that he is wildly furry.

He knows what’s coming…

It’s always a job to keep him knot-free, and, as we have just instantly passed from the Endless British Winter to the Great British Summer, he is probably at serious risk of heat stroke.

Unfortunately he hates having his coat trimmed and kicks, turns, and hops in the air while I take opportunistic snips in the general direction of his person.  This makes it a high anxiety and high risk experience for us both.

Eventually we’d had as much as we could stand.

Two pigs?

He still has both eyes, and I don’t think there are any little ears or leggies in that heap.