Sunday, September 27, 2015

Been away, come home

Which it's I, for all love, upon the taffrail,

and in the master's cabin of the Dutch East Indiaman Amsterdam*.

The Maritime Museum (het Scheepvaartmuseum) in Amsterdam was glorious, and one of the few places where I took many photos on our holiday, some of which I'll post later. Otherwise I didn't take so very many, but probably enough. The whole trip was such a wealth and a welter of experience and sensation, (even an Embarrassment of Riches perhaps) in so many ways: Amsterdam was lively and upbeat and friendly and beautiful and full of wonders and Bruges was exquisite and bijoux and beautiful and full of marvels, and everywhere there were all kinds of people to listen and talk to and watch and enjoy, it mostly seemed better simply to ride and soak than to try to capture and record. Tom took more, and I may pick over and pinch some of his later, and I may remember some stories to tell.

Now on our return, the swallows are still with us, and as a result of this, we have these, I've counted four so far, on the fennel and the Mexican orange (which is having a second flowering):

and while the sunflowers are coming to their end - I cut the last decent blooms to put in a bunch to thank the friends who took us to the railway station - the dead heads can stay, so we can still enjoy the goldfinches on them:

Unfortunately and less welcome on the nature notes front, we also returned to find that we now have these:

Hornets, finding ingress in some numbers into a weak point under the roof where the extension joins the main house. It's late in the year for them but evidently not too late. However, this fact did promote a friendly exchange with the lad next door, part of an unspecified family grouping who moved in unannounced just before we went away. We are rather used to our space and privacy and not having to anticipate arguments about the ill-defined parking space, so we were a bit grumpy about their arrival; I made an approach (in part to establish boundaries about the parking) and offered my name but received a somewhat reserved response and none of their names, and I instantly saw them as unfriendly, potentially troublesome, and this chap in particular as rather ferrety and feral looking. And we were slightly miffed that the house's owners, our former neighbours, hadn't given us any warning that they'd re-let it, which of course they aren't obliged to do but they always have done in the past.

I think we needed to get away and out into the world; too long behind your own walls, minding your own business and guarding your space can make you fearful and defensive, and inclined to see evil everywhere. In the light of shared concerns about the proliferation of frelons, the youngster was sympathetic and helpful, and went and found his i-phone to give me the name and number of his half-brother, who, he said, was in the business of pest control and lived locally. He's not weasle-like or surly, I thought, he's just thin and wan and shy, and very young. I asked his name and he told me it was Steve. That sounds English, I remarked, and he smiled rather sweetly. And their parking habits so far have been neat and considerate. So far so equable.

More to come about the trip.

* Read Desolation Island end to end in the course of the trip. I like to have the appropriate holiday reading matter for the location.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Sunflowers, unicorns, ladders and toad.

Just some later summer sunflowers, before they go.

Warm woollen mittens: the latest gift knitting, in an attempt at a cute, tasteful, trendy-knitting-book-style, still life. Not well done really, that edge of the the mat adjacent to the mittens is compositionally very irritating.

However, I was quite pleased with the mittens themselves, and thought perhaps they merited some coordinated props, blue china fragments, marbles, a late hydrangea head, and some old books, the ones one's mother read from in an old-fashioned, spoiled and sheltered childhood spent immersed in a mythos of horses and the countryside, some of the time at least: Kilvert's Diary, Borrow's Wild Wales, Lamb's Essays of Elia, and of course Jerry, the Story of an Exmoor Pony (or maybe the top one is Samuel Butler's Erewhon, which in fact I've never read and which doesn't really conform to the nostalgic, bucolic, middle class English idyll of the others, but it was still a bookshelf familiar from my personal Olden Days, and anyway, it's blue). 

The knitting is for a grand-daughter's eighteenth birthday in a couple of days, I'm fairly certain this won't spoil any surprises and that she doesn't read here, as I understand she is something called a Youtube vlogger and so probably ignorant of the very existence of old-fashioned blogs in general and this one in particular.  She's a dear girl anyway and fond of unicorns, I believe, or she was five minutes ago but not any longer and I'm probably hopelessly out of touch. She was very appreciative of her very long Hufflepuff scarf for her sixteenth anyway ("one of the best things I own") and still wearing it sometimes, even in the aforesaid vlogs, so I'm hoping she'll humour me. The original design, a very basic chart, was for horses but I converted it to unicorns, and made the rest of the details up.

They are even lined, an exercise I rather enjoy when the fancy takes me, as it involves knitting a smaller mirror image, second mitten attached to the first, which is then turned inside out inside it, as it were.

The fibre of the linings is made from the hair of humanely reared, free-range, gently combed unicorns.

Tom's constructive endeavours have been rather more practically useful; re-roofing part of our corrugated iron hangar barn in clear pvc.

I did in fact spend a fair amount of time up a parallel ladder myself holding ends up, standing at the bottom of his passing things, lying on the corrugated iron holding things down, and generally being an unskilled roofer's mate, a job which took me back a bit. (I know the photos look a bit pale, I lightened them up lot as they were too dark and shadowy, being contre-jour).

Last oddment, toad in the hole:

Quite a small one, with pretty little coppery eyes. I thought it might be one of the midwife toads which we hear chirping and chiming all spring and summer long but rarely see, but the eyes give it away: midwives are unusual among batracians  in having a vertical dark pupil/eye slit. It took up residence one day below a rose bush, but was gone by the next morning.

Off in a day or two to the Low Countries with high hopes, for a little while. Staying on-line but still somewhat scarce. Be seeing you.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Ovipositing swallowtail, another reason to have fennel in the garden

Fennel, dill, aneth, fenouil... it's a little confusing. I've never tried growing vegetable/bulb fennel, I don't care for it all that much, even veggie lover as I am. The herb one we have is the bronze one, and I think, like the bulb, it's called fenouil in French. I've always tended to think it very similar to all intents and purposes to dill herb, which is called aneth here. But then I asked Polish Chick, I think it was, or maybe Joe, who was also devotee of dill if not a fan of fennel, whether I couldn't substitute fennel for dill in a recipe - it might have been gravlax or pickles - as I didn't have any of the latter, and I received an uncompromising no, dill was distinctly different in flavour from fennel! (None of this alliteration took place at the time, whomever the conversation was with.)

So I tried growing some dill, and the germination was rubbish but then some of the seeds did come up eventually, and I've carefully nurtured the plants, but now they've grown big I can't honestly smell, taste or even see, once the dill plants grew beyond the early feathery-leafed stage, much difference between the two, and I haven't got around to making either gravlax or pickles with them.

However, they are both attractive to a somewhat unusual range of insects. Greenbottle type flies, which aren't very pleasant really but I suppose they have their place in the scheme, and also these curious leggy wasps:

They are the most unassuming and gentle creatures, showing no inclination to sting or bother one at all; in fact looking at the photo perhaps they don't even have a sting or aren't even true wasps. I'll try to find out.

[Edit: they appear to be paper wasps, polistes dominula. Some dizzyingly detailed facts about them in this Wiki link; how do people know all this stuff?]

The other insects which are drawn to it, not to feed but to breed, are the swallowtails. Not always, some years we see them often, others not at all, when they simply flutter through they are so rapidly moving and elusive I can seldom photograph them, but on this occasion one set about laying its eggs, or attempting to, on the plants, and being thus preoccupied, I was able to capture it on camera, with a lot of zoom.

I've since looked for the eggs or caterpillars, but no sign. Other years we've had them on various other plants, mostly other umbelliferous ones like carrots or parsley, but also on some Mexican orange bushes where this butterfly was also prospecting, and I have even been known to take them off and overwinter them as chrysalids in a terrarium, with a small amount of success. Both as caterpillars and as butterflies, they are impressive creatures, I think, at least by the standards of this corner of northern Europe.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Raindrops on fennel

We've had a drop of rain. Which was OK, than became a little tiresome especially accompanied by winds more equinoctial in character than suited to the season, 'not the yellow Provençal August that the English dream of' as I say every year, I think.

Never mind, raindrops on roses, or anything else, might not quite be my favourite thing but they really aren't bad, on leaves of  hypericum, for example:

We have a lot of fennel, the bronze kind. We must have bought a plant once but we've somewhat rued the day (umbelliferous pun there), since it sows itself promiscuously everywhere now: in the terrace gravel, the flower pots, the vegetable beds... I pull it up briskly but find it hard to throw it away, and often heel it in somewhere else. It doesn't seem to mind.

Fennel is quite good for culinary purposes, though there's a limit. But it's a graceful plant, and when it comes into it's own is after a shower of rain:

One of the appealing things about water drops is that they act as little lenses. Generally the naked eye, mine at least, can't really catch this, but with the additional aid of the camera lens, and subsequent cropping and enlargement, and upside-down image of the object behind is often to be seen within them. Thus:

A fish-eye view of the barn and blue washing.

I always think my first, old camera was best for this (I just looked back over those and yes, it really was), but it's still worth attempting.


Off to a garden party this afternoon given by a local expat association in aid of the local dog refuge, where I imagine many adorable rescued dogs will be to be seen. This is doubtless a very self-tormenting thing to do; I am already subjecting myself to all manner of tearings-in-two, poring over the heart-rending canines in need of homes on the refuge web page one minute before clicking over to look at the programme for the Philharmonie de Paris, Airbnb apartments on the Ile St Louis, ravishing mountain dwellings in Epirus, while deciding which museums to visit in Amsterdam next month and how to maximise our chances of seeing the Northern Lights from Reykjavik in December, etc etc. Such a beautiful but delicious cake, can I not have it and eat it? The darker side of this is also a sense of a world beyond our hearth and garden tearing itself apart, free movement about which for pleasure and sightseeing seems more and more an ironic anomaly and blind indulgence (as well as growing more fraught if train travel is to become as problematic and hedged about with security as flying, which I'll happily mostly eschew), so the temptation to close our own doors to it, turn in on ourselves, count our blessings and live out our quietist lives, snuggled down with a warm and grateful dog, grows stronger and stronger. 

Ah well, we'll see.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

And for good measure, some rectangles

A better view of the octopus hat. The recipient says the day it arrived he wore it all evening watching telly. In August. Whether he will wear it again I don't know, it is rather large and floppy.

The comma butterfly again. Faded elegance. It seems to like purplish things, which flatter it.

Another flying insect on another DYC.

Another bee on another echinacea, another echinacea doing its Fibonacci thing. I love them.

And these sunflowers, which come in a marvellous range of colours, with several flowers to a stem, talking to the leeks about what it must be like to perennialise.

 Luxuriance, rather dried and Augustified.

Bread for honey. Un grand complet, pas tranché.