Wednesday, 31 October 2007

The Battle of the Bulge....

A policeman stood in the road, his fluorescent jacket glowing in my headlights. He waved me to stop. I awaited the usual sarcastic remark, ("Any faster sonny and you'll travel back in time") but no. "You can't go any further, the roads bulging". That was a new one... I nipped through the car parks eager to film the 'bulging' road. The police were there on mass as well as a fire engine. The bulge was creaking and groaning. Then water began to fill the street.
It was time to back off. There was a distant rumble like an underground train, accompanied with the sound of rocks clonking together as you would hear on a rough beach.

It erupted through the surface scattering tarmac asunder.

The water board turned up. Professional as ever, a stop cock handle was eventually found....under a pile of sand in the back of the lorry!

Turning the metal pole was hard work and even the traffic police had a go at playing 'merry-go-round'.

It was a little unclear which way it should be turned. The fountain got bigger and bigger.

They tried it the other way, just in case. More and more water spurted out and the guy from the water board looked as if he wanted to go home.
Convinced that 'clockwise' was the direction to go, he put his back into it.

Things started to get alarming as boulders began to fly out of the hole, crashing to the ground with a thud.

To his credit the workman stood his ground, sure that he was turning the tap in the right direction, in spite of the ever towering geyser.

The geyser began to subside, to the relief of the emergency crews. It had been a tough old night standing watching, playing 'merry-go-round' and filming it all on their mobile phones. We can only hope all the bad criminal people were having a night off too.

The waters flooded several shops, the cellars of the local fish restaurant (the stock will probably survive flood damage), and the local car parks. By 4am all the excitement was over and it was time for bed, so I went too.....

Monday, 29 October 2007

The successive states of the universe, regarded as a whole, in which, each state occurrs either before or after every other. + Mr. Spider.

Now that the clocks have gone back, it's dark at five. Stop messing about with the time...If it was up to me we'd be on 'British Summer Time' all year round. No, actually 'Double British Summer Time' like in World War Two. Who wants that extra hour of light in the morning when it's all cold, you need it in the evening when the sun has warmed things up and you can enjoy it? Anyway, that's not my real subject. Why is it when it starts to get dark early and there's that nip in the night air, do you open the back door and find this chap waiting to get in; again?!
I've put him out so many times, but he keeps on coming back. It's not that I don't like him or anything (we don't have any poisonous spiders, some of the little ones will bite, but you won't get much more than a small lump at worst), it's just that he will get under your feet. I'm so worried I'm going to step on him.

I tried to convince him to get onto my hand for a lift outside, but he wasn't having any of it.

This is a'Giant House Spider' (Tegenaria gigantea) and they are the quickest running spider in the trying to corrale him and guide him back out ended in both of us being out of breath!

I tried reasoning with him. I pointed the direction I wanted him to go, but no, he turned his back to me and sulked.

It turns out he wasn't coming in to escape the cold. In spring and autumn they are on the lookout for a Mrs. Gigantea! The males have these 'palps' , while the females don't and are even bigger!

I decided to let him stay. He's been no trouble. He's been behind the fridge most of the time. He'll come out for a bit of a sprint across the kitchen floor at night and wait at the door to be let into the hall. There's no girlfriend spider yet. I think we're going to have to tidy him up a little, maybe have a word about those hairy palps....

Friday, 26 October 2007

Deer and mice, somewhere nice......

Not far from home, where the suburbs meet the countryside, is an area of old farmland. Once a mixture of pheasant woods, arable and grazing for horses, it is now abandoned. I don't know why this valuable land has been left unattended for so long, it's in the green belt so can't be built on, so maybe it's simply a small part of a wealthy portfolio, neither needed or noticed. Still, I don't mind as it's become a haven for nature and for me alike.
Here in the new woods lies a derelict plant nursery. A good size plot with rows of greenhouse, boiler houses and offices. It seems strange, as if one day without warning everyone got up and left, never to return. Natures taken over, but in the greenery, exotic escapees lurk in the undergrowth.

Out in the open grassland of what was horse pasture, lies the remnants of a trotting track laid out with old police cones.

There must be at least twenty of these, each one has a resident mouse.

The yellow hue is caused by the colour of the cone and gives the dry, sheltered interior a cosy feel.

A screech from the buzzard up in the nearby oak sends the little chap to huddle in the corner. Too small for a buzzard to be bothered with, the kestrel hovering in the distance is probably more of a threat, along with the obvious presence of owls, from the amount of pellets around.
Inside the cone it is safe, dry, warmed by the sunshine. A little nest of fine grass occupies the corner, a secreted larder of seed in is good in the police cone.

My main reason for being here is to track a Muntjac. Small pockets of land such as this are perfect territory for these small deer. They are loners (or occasionally in small groups) and so can survive where larger deer and herds can't. About the size of an Alsatian dog, they love this mix of woodland with its undergrowth and tall grassland.
They are both secretive and elusive. Tracking them involves finding the extent of their territory and establishing their feeding routine, (they are creatures of habit, following the same route daily).
This track is recent, it was still today, but windy yesterday, so the small twig across the print would indicate that it is probably a day old.

Muntjac are active day and night. They feed mainly at dawn and dusk, but can be found out and about at anytime. In the grassland there are many trails, ending in a circle of flattened foliage. These are lying up spots where they settle to ruminate.
This track is a little older, the sides have fallen in and is partly filled with bits from the overhead trees.

Reeves's Muntjac/ Chinese Muntjac aren't indigenous. They were first brought into the country in 1840 at Woburn Abbey. Many escaped later from Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire and they have slowly established themselves across the country. The Midlands seems to particularly suit them, with it's mix of habitat.
This is a track from today, clean and crisp, I'm slowly figuring out the route this chap takes.

As you can see these hoof prints are quite small.
Muntjacs are one of the oldest known deer, appearing nearly 30 million years ago. They are unusual as they have no rutting period and will breed at any time of year, this must lend to their success at spreading across the country as it allows them to be flexible in their territories.
It looks as if this individual has taken peoples back gardens into its territory, (they'll often browse bird feeders).

I'd just switched my camcorder off and then there it was. I had to wait for the camera to fire back up which seemed to take an age. The wind was in my favour, luckily. This is a doe, you can tell by the lack of antlers, just little tufts instead. Bucks lose their small antlers in May/June but by now they would have been replaced. They spend a lot of time in scrubby woodland with a lot of undergrowth, large antlers would be a hindrance. Rather than using them to fight, they are used to overbalance the opposition and then the tusk like canines are used aggressively.
Keep your eyes open these little chaps are all around us. They can be mistaken for a dog or a fox crossing a field in the distance. If you suspect that they are coming into your garden, put some finely raked soil around where they might feed and look for tracks.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Quick recipe, Sloe gin......

The low sun in the sky heralds the onset of the colder weather, but it's not all doom and gloom as the 'outdoor' larder is packed with goodies. One in particular is ready right now....
The Sloe. Blackthorn bushes are laden with fruit this year, not surprising considering the ammount of white blossom there was as winter had barely finished. Sloes are an ancestor of the Damson/ Plum family. Incredibly tart, they are much too astringent to eat straight from the tree. You can wait until mid-winter when they will be well and truly bletted, or pick them and deep freeze them to sweeten them a little, but the best use is for...Sloe Gin.

They grow wild in the hedgerows, especially the older ones (pre 1800's). During the 1800's vast areas of previously common land were stolen....I mean enclosed. Most of these hedges were straight lines of Hawthorn, because they are cheap, can be layed and are stock proof. We need the earlier ones, the more variety of species usually the older the hedge. Also look for 'S' shaped hedge lines (aratral curve), this curve follows the line of the oxen drawn plough lines as they swept one way, then the other as they turned at the end of the field.
Using 'Hoopers' rule (age is equal to number of woody species in a 30 yard section multiplied by 110 years), this section of hedge is at least 700 years old.

With your sloes collected, pull off any stalks and give them a cats lick as they don't have to be too clean. Don't worry about any insects or grubs, they all add body/ bodies and flavour.

You need a good sized container, because....well, because you want a lot of it. I use these jars containing cider. Hang on a minute, I'll just decant this cider....that's better. Oooh! That's made me feel a bit giddy. 2 litres at 8.2%?! I'd better get on with this before my hand/ eye coordination goes...

If your Sloes aren't bletted then you'll need to prick each several times. Folklore says you shouldn't prick them with any metal other than silver and if that's not available then use a thorn from the Blackthorn itself. I take it they didn't have stainless steel in the olden days and cheaper metals could taint the fruit. I'm going to use a steel skewer and if the tree nymphs don't like it, they'll have to come and get me. See? That cider is making me feisty now.
Pop the fruit in your container about two thirds full and add half the weight in dark sugar. The sugar helps extract the flavour from the sloes and combats the tartness. Top up with Gin, Rum, Whiskey or Brandy.

Now the difficult part. You can't drink it until Christmas! Give it a shake every few days to help things along. Check the taste every week or so and add more sugar if necessary. You'll find that it gets more tart as the fruits infuse, the taste you're aiming for is liqueur sweet with a sharp tang. When it's ready, decant using a coffee filter and you'll find you'll have a fine crimson liqueur with a flavour you'll have to experience for yourselves. Don't throw those berries away, put them in cider and let them infuse. Oh, I drank the cider didn't I? Slight oversight on my part. Anyway, suddenly I feel rather sleepy...I'm going for a lie down.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Cow whispering....

I've heard a lot said about horse whispering and have always wanted to give it a go. Unfortunately I don't have a horse, and I didn't think it would be appreciated if I went whispering other peoples. It seemed best to start with cows. They tend to be less temperamental and frankly, I reckon they get bored.
Logically I needed to find the leader. After sitting watching for quite a while, I observed that the herd splits into several groups, each one has it's own head cow. If I could find the 'master' cow, then I could control all of the herds collectively.
This mainly black one looked a likely candidate, the larger group were following his every move.

Standing firm, I stared him keenly in the eye. Once I had properly got his attention, I lifted my right arm and advanced. Yes, they started to move.....

.....then, swapping arms I guided them back the other way. I'd demonstrated to the herd my dominance over the master cow and all I had to do was to turn away, be more placid, wait for them to follow me and accept me as their leader....nothing! They all pissed off doing their own thing (pissing being one of them). He wasn't the leader after all, he was popular, but not a master cow.

A little more sitting and watching was required. Twenty minutes later it was apparent that this unlikely looking guy was in fact the leader (it's always the quiet ones)!
Some more eye staring, gentle manoeuvring the herd around, soon taught them that I was the guy they should follow. Then, the acid test......I turned my back and waited.....

....success! When I tentatively looked behind, they were all waiting. The former leader was now following me. I was....'THE MASTER COW!' (Yes, I shall be putting it on my CV. Why not?!)

We were all friends.

Why farmers do all that herding about when you can simply make friends and they will follow you where ever you want.

"Yes, we're friends, you don't have to lick me anymore, I've got the message!"

Does anyone know how to de-whisper cows, because they won't leave me alone. "Stop licking me!...Don't lick me there!"
There is a field full of donkeys not far from here, which I will have a go with, but before that I'm going to practice on some lower order of life form.......teenagers. I've already got my target group. A gang numbering approx 15 or so. I've identified the leader (master yobbling), all I have to do is first stare him in the eye, second, chase him around until he accepts me as his leader, then wait for the gang to follow me...simple. Now, where DID I put that machete?

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Things that go thump in the night....

Sometimes you just get one of those nights. Usually it's warm and dry, mild night madness.... How, on a straight section of 30mph road do you manage to spin your van 180 degrees and wedge it backwards in some ones doorway?
"Have you had a drink tonight Sir?" "No, ociffer!"

"Well, I was on my way home, and turned into my drive as usual...but it was gone."
"This isn't even my road... it's the council moving the signs about"

2am... 7 police cars, 3 ambulances, 1 paddy wagon and 2 riot vans. A normally placid pub had erupted into violence. Punches, wrestling in the road and broken bottle fights.

I didn't venture closer with the camera until things had calmed right down.

From the various conversations there seemed to be a 101 different causes that sparked off the violence...."Tracy had a 'tramp stamp' and it wasn't from Dave, but she's getting to married to Darnell innhe?!" "It was the posh lot being tossers again" "Trevor started it by not hitting Goldie?!" "The cops made it bad innit by nicking em innit?" All seem perfectly valid reasons for sticking a broken bottle in the face of the guy you were drinking with all night.

"No Dave stop struggling, you'll make i worser." "When I get these cuffs off I'm gonna give you a kickin copper" "AAah! Me arm, garoff me arm" "Dave, stop ee...there's more comin" "F*&k off Trace"

"I'm gon a get you" "Aaah, me arm" "mmnnoomghpfff" "Me eyes, you blinding me"

Finally secured Dave went for a little drive.

"You don't understand, I luv Dave y'know?" Sorting out her phone from a handbag..."Darnell you cum and pik me uup luv?!"