Wednesday 29 February 2012


February 29

Odd, waif-like Day, the changeling of
Man's 'time' unreckoned in his years;
The moon already shows above
Thy fickle sleet - now tears!

As brief thy stay has been as though
Next Spring might seal our tryst again.
Alas, fall must four winters' snow
Ere you come back. And then?

I love thy timid aconite,
Crocus, and scilla's deep- sea blue;
Hark, too, that rainbird, out of sight,
Mocking the woodland through!

But see, it's evening in the west:
Tranquil, withdrawn, aloof, devout.
Soon will the darkness drape your breast,
And midnight shut you out!...

Sweet February Twenty Nine!-
This is our grace-year, as I live!
Quick now! this foolish heart of mine:
Seize thy prerogative!

Evening in the west has passed
And darkness wrapped me round
I didn't seize the day alas,
For to the house was bound.

I waited in from Two 'til Nine!-
At John Lewis' bidding,
There was an ancient wash machine
I needed to be ridding.

But stay! Twas not all squander'd though,
I planted up my seed trays,
With myriad herbs and flowers to grow
In coming grace-filled spring days!

With apologies to Walter de la Mare.

Monday 27 February 2012

Another tree ring

Happy Birthday 

from one old fossil

to another.

May these few pictures be a happy reminder
of another day we've shared,
stepping from rock to rock,
walking on smooth sand,
and occasionally getting our feet wet.

Friday 24 February 2012

Sugaring time

At about this time of year
I am seized with an acute but futile longing
to start sugarin'.
See here and here.
I have known exactly what to do
since 1966 when I first read Pa's instructions
in Little House in the Big Woods.*

You need wooden buckets and little troughs
 made from cedar and white ash
'for those woods won't give a bad taste to the maple syrup.'
To make the troughs, split out little sticks as long as your hand
 and as big as your two fingers.
Near the end cut the stick half through, 
and split one half off.
Then you'll have a flat stick, with a square piece at one end. 
Drill a hole with a bit lengthwise through the square part, 
then whittle the wood until it is only a thin shell round the hole.
Hollow out the flat part until it is a little trough.

You make dozens of these, and ten new buckets,
then you'll have them all ready 
for when the first warm weather comes 
and the sap begins to move in the trees.

Go into the maple woods and bore a hole in each tree,
hammer the the round end of the little trough into the hole,
and set a cedar bucket on the ground under the flat end.
Every day you empty the sap from the buckets into the barrel.

Empty the sap into the iron kettle.
Light a big bonfire underneath it and boil the sap.
Skim the sap with a big long-handled wooden ladle
made of basswood. 
Lift and cool the sap in the ladle if it gets too hot.

The instant the sap is graining, rake the fire 
out from beneath the kettle
and as fast as you can ladle the thick syrup
into the milk pans where it will turn to cakes
of hard brown maple sugar.

The best bit comes in the next chapter, 
when you go to the dance at Grandpa's and you 
pour hot syrup onto plates of snow and eat it
as it cools into soft candy.

'They could eat all they wanted,
for maple sugar never hurt anybody.'

* by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Thursday 23 February 2012

Pep talk

If you have been waking at 4.30 am
and as a result are feeling rather zonked,
may I recommend the following tonic:

Dry roast a teaspoon of coriander seeds
with a teaspoon of cumin seeds
in a small metal pan.
Grind in a pestle and mortar
and inhale.
(No, not like snuff.)
So that it doesn't go to waste, add it to some pumpkin soup
which will be a necessary restorative later in the day
when you have no energy left for cooking.

Additionally you might plonk a vase of daffodils
in a sunny patch on the hall floor,
and take a photo of it
to admire when the sun has disappeared
and with it the remainder of your life force.

As a final fillip, order a packet of wildflower mix from
Sarah Raven and then when you waken at 4.30 the next day
imagine being lulled back to sleep
by the sound of humming insects and buzzing bees
in your two metre square meadow.

See also this interesting article suggested by Arthur Ransome.

Tuesday 21 February 2012


faithful steed.

After seventeen years
and the equivalent of three trips 
round the Earth's circumference,
it was time to let him go.
Not to the knacker's yard though.
He has gone to a rather unusual garage,
(which appropriately enough used to be a stable)
to be lent to visiting missionaries from 
Darjeeling, Papua New Guinea, Siberia, 
Zambia or Antarctica.

Friday 17 February 2012

Prepare to repel boarders

I'm growing weary of the default setting:
think the worst, it will probably happen,
defend yourself against it at all times.

The burglar permanently stationed near my door,
waiting for the day when I do not 
set the alarm and double lock the door.
(Your insurance will be invalidated.)

The identity thief, keen to sift through my recycling bin
for the one document that may have included 
a vital piece of personal data,
not shredded.
(Your bank account will be emptied.)

The parking attendant gleefully pouncing on my car 
with a ticket for a one minute overstay in a free parking slot.
(Rush back or that will be £60 please.)

Yesterday my mind went blank 
when asked to present my pin number at the checkout.
(Three wrong attempts and your card will be cancelled.)

And now, the hideous hoops that bloggers must jump through
in order to leave a benign comment.

I didn't switch to the new Blogger interface,
so perhaps you are not faced with an illegible string
of skew whiff reversed out letters.
Word verification used to be quite fun,
but not anymore.
Apparently the robots have learnt to read,
and so humans must play catch up.

Well I am throwing caution to the winds.
I'm taking word verification off,
and I'll moderate the little monsters myself.

Matt Daily Telegraph 27/7/2011

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Short shelf life

I hope I sold a few of these today.
I've just had to buy a new washing machine.


Went to the park for a run
for the first time after a long break,

channelling my inner Ueli Steck.

Monday 13 February 2012


I was so pleased to see a pair of these
busy in our garden.
Too busy for me to catch on camera,
so this image is from the RSPB website.
A first sighting for me, they look like a patchwork bird.
As I tried to identify them, flitting at some distance,
in and out of view,
 I thought Thrush?
Huge sparrow? Redwing? Cuckoo?
But they are Fieldfares and apparently they visit town gardens
during a severe winter when the countryside is under snow.
They were feeding on our pyracantha berries.

JofIndia posted this picture 
taken in the Wayanad hills, Kerala.
I used to make, and sometimes sell,
pictures using layers of tissue paper,
a technique called marouflage,
although I think that originally referred to canvas stuck to walls.
This picture made me want to pick it up again.

And finally this:

'The grand essentials of happiness are 
something to do
something to love
and something to hope for.'

Left by Belinda here, and a reminder of this song,
which my boys learnt at school.

Saturday 11 February 2012

Bringing the spring indoors

In war-time more than any other time we need
the brightness of flowers around us,
especially spring flowers with their promise of
new hope and new life.
No doubt you are not content to buy an odd bunch of flowers 
and stick them haphazardly around the room.
(Perish the thought!)

What an opportunity spring flowers give us
of finding new arrangements that enchant the eye 
and cheer the spirit.
Get four or five common brown oven-ware dishes,
(Bother - I only have the superior sort)
fill them with stones and completely
cover them with freshly picked moss.
These make the foundations which you can use
time after time.
(This is fortunate as our lawn is entirely moss now.)

Each is like a round green cushion which
you can embroider with different colour flowers
like some beautiful piece of stitchery.
one can be patterned with purple and yellow crocus,
another with scillas or chionodoxa,
another with primroses and violets.
Over the top of some of your cushions
gently arch a spray of catkins.

A narrow drift of spring flowers
along the top of a sideboard or bookcase
is another novelty.
Begin with a fairly large open vase
holding branches of blackthorn, catkins
and sturdy outdoor daffodils.
Graduate this to four of five shallow dishes
containing shorter stemmed flowers like
hyacinths, or pheasant eye narcissus;
thence to polyanthus and other small blooms.
( I would like to use the word thence more often.)

A basket of flowers for the dinner or
luncheon table is a refreshing idea.
Stack a plain wicker basket with mimosa, anemones,
a bit of early lilac and a few short headed tulips.
Never be afraid to try out different flowers and shrubs together.
It's fashionable to mix them.
Tulips and flowering-currant are lovely together
in a plain pottery jar;
pink prunus with palm in a ginger-jar.
A round bowl is lovely massed with lilies of the valley
or white violets with a posy of purple violets in the centre.

Grape hyacinths are beautifully set off by a surround
of cabbage leaves. Yes - cabbage leaves!
Their blue green is perfect with the flowers.
Daffodils and their foliage look superb
in a copper urn with the spout facing the wall.
Pewter and zinc are just right for the dancing daffodils too.
That Victorian silver cake basket your mother gave you -
(an oversight on my mother's part I'm sure)
it makes a lovely centre-piece for the dining room table
crammed with tiny spring flowers, edged,
if you wish, with a prim lace d'oyley!

There is more, but I think this is plenty to be going on with.
The full article may be found in the April 1940 issue of

Available at all good stationers.
Get thee thence.

Friday 10 February 2012

The Dig

The site.

The (very hardy) archaeologists.

 The plans.

The hole.

The medieval town wall?

Let's hope not,
because if it is,
we won't be getting our extension.

On the other hand,
we might get to be on this programme.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Snow country


 Buried wall.

Such stark beautiful scenery.
Like a Breugel painting.
We had to dig our car out this morning
but by the time we got back to the city
the snow was just dirty kerbside smudges.

Friday 3 February 2012

The rainbows are back

Listening to this in the early early morning.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

The past is a foreign country

I have started going through some of my papers.

Today, I burnt all my senior school reports.
I kept the junior school reports,
because things had been going swimmingly 

up until the transfer from a tiny Preparatory school with 60 pupils

to a grammar school with 600.

I sank without trace.