This was first published in Drifting Sands Issue Six, December 2020. I was looking through the book where I print out my published pieces ( a trick my father in law taught me – when you need a boost, you can always flick through it). I discovered I’m actually several months behind with it and started poking around the internet. I quite liked this one when I first wrote it, and I still do. This isn’t always the case.
I probably linked to it from the blog when it was published, so apologies if you have seen it before.
Thirty years ago, I rambled through the Leicestershire countryside and saw villages which had collections of crumbling farm buildings and odd nooks of unruly weeds. Stands of tall nettles often concealed rusty machines, and rosebay willowherb blazed in the sun. Now they are tidy, and iron butterflies decorate the fronts of houses built where real butterflies used to feed. They have become development opportunities, and gaps have been filled. Small neat houses and barn conversions proliferate, with block-paved drives and shiny cars. Drinks are taken, and conversations held, where pigs once grunted and chickens scratched. Snouts, though, are still rammed firmly into troughs.
I’ve just been having a look through some old photos. It’s amazing how many I have kept over the years, though they are a random, unsorted and generally useless bunch of images.
The one I used as a “featured image” is one of my favourites. When you consider how early a crocus blooms, it’s unusual to photograph a butterfly on one. Strangely, it was very active, despite the time of year, and flew off after I’d managed to get just two shots. That is typical butterfly behaviour.
MY relationship with butterflies started when I was very young – it was the summer before my sister was born, which would make me just over two years old. In those days they were as big as my hand. Like so many other things, they became less impressive as I grew older. About eight years later, I became interested in them again, learnt more about them and pursued them with a net. It was not my finest hour but times were different then. After that, I didn’t pay them more than a passing interest until we started the Quercus project on the farm. Butterflies are easier to observe and photograph when you have a group of people behind you.
Nettle soup, as you may guess from the title, is also one of my favourites. I haven’t made it for a few years but, having cleared the back fence, I now have a thriving nettle bed. This promises a good harvest, and a good food source for butterflies. I will have to manage it properly, as we don’t want masses of nettles when we com to sell the house, but I’m looking forward to several years of butterflies and nettle soup. Red admiral, peacock, small tortoiseshell and comma caterpillars all eat nettles. I’ve never seen a comma in the garden, but I have seen the other three so we could be on for a good year.
Nettle Soup is also, sometimes misleadingly, the name given to the solution that develops if you steep nettles in water .It’s also known as nettle tea. You can also put nettles in a cup, pour boiling water on them and drink them like a tea.
There are many recipes on the internet for nettle soup (some more complicated than others) and nearly as many for the fertiliser. have a poke round and see what you can find. Fertiliser is easy – let nettles rot in water. Compost the nettles and dilute the resulting liquid a the rate of about 10:1 to water on a s a plant food. Warning: it may be a bit smelly. I’ve never been bothered by it but some people do bang on about it in their recipes.
My personal favourite recipe for the green (edible) soup is very simple – just onions, nettles, stock and a blender, as I recall – no potatoes, no rice. And definitely no carrot, celery or cream. One recipe even tells you that you can often find bunches of nettles on Farmers’ Markets in spring.
Last week I realised I was following over 1,800 people. I had culled a lot of the people I followed a couple of years ago when I realised that I didn’t actively follow most of them, and that many of them hadn’t posted for months. I started following a lot of them because we had shared interests, or because they followed me, and it soon got out of control.
After the cull I still fell into the trap of following people who followed me and it started building up again.
A couple of days ago I started thinking about WP and my numbers. I don’t need to follow 1,800 people when I actually struggle to keep up with reading more that a couple of dozen blogs, and even then my reading is somewhat erratic.
After three days of boring effort I am now following 285 people and that’s only because I haven’t finished yet. I’m hoping to get down to around 100. Some of them make it easy for me by having words like “marketing” in their titles, Others haven’t posted for months, or even a year. A few haven’t posted for two years. It’s very sad to see them pass, and I haven’t the heart to delete the ones I used to enjoy.
As an aside here, if someone dies, what do you do with their emails and email address. I keep them, because it’s not like you’ve lost them if you keep the emails alive, and it seems discourteous just to press a button and consign them to cyberspace. Is that morbid, ghoulish or unbalanced? Or just plain stupid? I’m not sure. What do you do?
In a similar vein who do you follow? And how many people follow you? I have 2,080 followers, but on a good day I have fifty to sixty people visiting the site. If a post gets 20 likes it’s a red letter day. I’m pretty sure that 2,000 of those followers aren’t pulling their weight. Let’s face it, most of them have probably left WP or grown bored of my ranting over the years, or never really liked me in the first place – they just wanted me to follow them. I shouldn’t be surprised about this, after all, it’s what I do to other people.
The Red Admiral in the featured image was basking in sun on some ivy as Julia walked to the laundrette today. I saw a Small Copper in our front garden yesterday but it flew off before I could get my camera out. Wife 1 Me 0.
This is one from a couple of years ago, when I was younger and quicker. It appeared in the recent post Sunlit Uplands and I took it a year or two before that.
A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare
W. H. Davies
We took time out on Wednesday to buy sandwiches from the supermarket and take a drive into the countryside. It wasn’t as comfortable as it could have been because I had a feeling that I should have planned better and made our own sandwiches. In my defence we didn’t know what time Julia’s meeting would end and everything was a bit chaotic.
Shopping at the supermarket still doesn’t feel comfortable, paying the cost of ready made sandwiches seems extravagant after months of economy, and aimlessly driving in the countryside also seems wrong.
On the other hand, sitting at home is beginning to wear a bit thin too.
We eventually found a verge to park on and ate sandwiches whilst watching the local wildlife – which was butterflies. The flies were too small to see from the car, the grasshoppers were hidden and though we heard the call of pheasants and saw a few wood pigeons there didn’t seem to be much bird life about either.
By the time I got out of the car, brushing crumbs from my newly decorated shirt, the Peacock and the White butterflies had all gone and the promising reddish brown ones all turned out top be Gatekeepers, which are common, and not much more interesting than the Peacocks and Whites.
I clearly need to brush up on my butterfly stalking technique,and my grasshopper hunting methods as I managed to see them only as they leapt to escape my feet. I didn’t get a single grasshopper shot, just a few flies as a relief from Gatekeepers.
Even my attempts at photographing sloes were thwarted by a sparse selection and poor lighting. It’s bad when you can’t even get a shot of something that just hangs there without moving…
My efforts are a far cry from the fine efforts made by Beating the Bounds, a blog I haven’t read for a while. On seeing this post, I was glad I had chosen to return.
Insects on Thistles
Fly on a leaf
As you can tell from the captions, I have returned to my original style of uninformative caption. I must do better, but, to be honest, I’ve made it through the first 62 years without trying too hard, so why change now?
They say that hard work never killed anybody, but that’s what I thought about Covid 19 to start with. It seems silly to take a chance.
The final shot is the Grasshopper that emerged from the garden when we returned home on Friday– displaying itself on the tarmac. This is not the setting you most associate with an insect that has the word “grass” in its name.
As my post count moves closer and closer to 2,000 I find my main feeling is not one of achievement, but one of wanting a rest. This is accompanied by a realisation that reaching 2,000 posts is just reaching a number, rather than finding enlightenment or suddenly breaching a barrier and breaking through into the sunlit uplands of quality blogging. Standards have in fact fallen so far that I am typing this without my glasses. It’s not as lax as blogging in my pyjamas, but I’d be doomed if I didn’t have a spell-checker.
Even with glasses my typing wouldn’t win any prizes, as I often see when reading the gobbledygook that passes as previous posts. I’m often amazed that despite my best efforts at composition and proof-reading there are still pockets of gibberish lurking to embarrass me on re-reading. I hate that.
I got two pointless answers on the final question of Pointless last night. For those of you who don’t watch the programme, this is pretty good, but does, in truth, not compare with a Nobel Prize or an Oscar.
My answers were Duke of Burgundy and Adonis Blue. I would have scored the triple with Cryptic Wood White but I couldn’t remember the word “Cryptic” so settled for Black-Veined White, which wasn’t pointless. When I checked it for the link it would appear to be extinct in the UK, so that explains it. To be honest, I’m feeling more deflated at missing the triple than I am elated at nailing two of them, even though was two more than the real finalists. It’s a sign of ageing that I am finding it harder to access my full vocabulary. If I hate finding gibberish in past posts, I really hate not being able to find the right words.
My photos are of commoner butterflies, which are the best I can do.
Of course, another sign of ageing is attaching importance to answering questions on TV quiz shows. That’s one of the milder signs of encroaching old age.
The butterfly photos are from A Painted Lady Comes to Call, which indicates that in August 2017 we had crumble for tea. We had crumble for tea tonight – apple and rhubarb with ice cream. Some things don’t change much. Or, to look at it another way, some things are so good they can’t be improved.
Talking of age, I just deleted the entire post. This is the second time I’ve done this recently. Fortunately I managed to get it back without too much trouble, but it’s a worry that I keep doing it. I really must get a grip.
I wrote this post about twenty hours ago, apart from this paragraph. The penultimate sentence was true. I did serve tea. The final sentence did not come true. It should have read “Then I am going to watch comedy programmes and fall asleep in front of the fire, finally waking after midnight and going to bed without posting.” Now that you know that I can pass you over to last night’s second post, secure in the knowledge that it should now make sense.
The header picture is one of my favourite photos, despite its imperfections – you don’t often see a butterfly soon enough to picture it on a crocus. I took it four or five years ago but still like to see it. The other two were things I was working on today.
I walked through to the kitchen half an hour ago with the intention of cooking tea, writing a quick blog post and starting to firm up my presentation. It’s only three weeks away and it’s looking rather under-prepared. I say “under-prepared” but I might actually mean “not started”.
In the old days I used to give talks on the Sealed Knot and the English Civil War. I’d stick a uniform on, grab a box of equipment and set off, often with an assistant, stand in front of an audience and start. No preparation, no heart-searching and, most importantly, no Power Point. I’ve never even used an overhead projector for presentations.
I am absolutely dreading the forthcoming presentation – everybody uses Power Point these days and the audience will be expecting it. Even if I prepare the slides properly I still have the problem of standing, talking and pressing a button at the same time. That’s three things! I’m not sure I’m up to it.
I don’t have an assistant for this talk, so I can’t even tell the audience, “And now I’ll pass you over to Julia.” She used to hate that.
Meanwhile, back at the blog…
I sat down, started looking at comments and found myself whisked away to a world of poetry, parties, hummingbirds, health, ponies, gardens and various amusing characters. I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting my WP reading dreadfully. Sorry about that.
The result of that I left the potato wedges in too long before adding the veggie burgers and not only did I write no blog, but I am now going to have overly crispy potato wedges.
It will be a busy day tomorrow, in place of our usual day off. Julia has a hair appointment in the morning and a meeting in the late afternoon/early evening. We have several collections booked in tomorrow – everyone seems to be selling at the moment – and I’ve been asked to go in as we are going to need to be at full strength.
Banknotes of Sudan
After a slow start to the year its good to see that things are finally moving, and I’m glad that the request for the extra day came. when it did – I was going to be lonely tomorrow without Julia. I now have a full day planned, extra pay and somewhere warm to sit without increasing my domestic fuel bill.
I’ve even, eventually, managed to complete the post.
Now I’m going to serve tea.
Then I will add tags and photos.
Medallion – Her Majesty at 90. Complete with gold-plating, spot colour and a Swarovski Crystal, because nothing says “quality tribute” like a garish, blinged up medallion with a crystal in it.
There were three Painted Ladies in the front garden when I got home. The combination of red valerian and warm flagstones seems to attract them.
The quality of the photographs is, as ever, dubious. Just as the garden seems to be good for Painted Ladies this year, it seems to be bad for photography at the end of the afternoon.
Painted Lady – Nottingham
Painted Lady – red valerian
Painted Lady – Sherwood, Nottingham
The rest of the evening was a bit of an anti-climax after that. I had some sorting and planning to do, and seemed to have worked harder in the evening than I did during the day. The Westminster School Attendance Medals I put on eBay yesterday sold within hours.
As I think I said yesterday, this always makes me wonder if they were too cheap. However, I think it’s generally that you are showing your stock to so many people that there are always keen buyers for certain things out there.
I am writing this on a computer that has, according to the date of the last file I saved, not run since 2012. It has been switched off so long that we had to reset the clock before Google would allow us access. And, to even get to that point, we had to find the yellow cable that connects it to the router, as it has no wireless capability.
It runs on Vista and Microsoft Word 2010 and is a pleasure to use after so many weeks on the netbook.
The netbook was a mixed blessing, but it kept me going and I have been very grateful for it, despite my more than occasional criticism of its lack of speed.
All I need to do is wipe away six year’s supply of dust and spider webs, and it will be almost as good as new.
I say “almost” because there is the question of the On/Off switch.
There isn’t one. It broke and for the last six months of its active life I had to start the computer by hotwiring it, or, for those of you unaccustomed to the vernacular of the street (well, the 1970s street) touching two bare wires together.
It works, and more important, it cost nothing to do. These are two factors that are close to my heart.
That’s probably the biggest news of the day, though my three-centre medical excursion seemed big until we got the computer running.
It started with a visit to the doctor at 8.00 to discuss the pain in my little finger. At this point I’d like to say, because I have difficulty getting this point over to the medical profession, that although I don’t like to complain it is very difficult having an arthritic little finger. It doesn’t seem like much but it can be remarkably painful and it makes everyday life (like tucking my shirt in, packing parcels or washing up) painful and difficult, though the washing up water is very soothing.
So far it’s taken me a week to get the X-ray appointment, ten days to get the results and ten days to get this appointment (that could have been a week, but it would have meant missing work, and I don’t want that).
So are they going to give me anti-inflammatories, you ask, or an injection, or even a new wonder drug?
The X-ray, I’m told is not typical of osteo-artritis so they need to find out exactly what is happening. Two arthritic fingers, two different types of arthritis. What are the chances of that? I can’t win a lottery, but when it comes to medical curiosities I lead the field. Having said that, I just looked up the different sorts of arthritis and am feeling slightly less blase about it now.
They sent me for blood tests. Eight blood tests. That’s nearly an armful. (I put that bit in for you Derrick).
After the blood tests I went for my 9.30 chest X-ray appointment.
In a week or so the results will be in.
At that point, you ask, will they give me anti-inflammatories, or an injection, or even a new wonder drug?
At that point they are going to get me an appointment with a specialist.
Sorry about last night. I didn’t have a lot of time between returning home from seeing my Dad and setting off to take Number Two Son to work. In between the two events I ate tea, shouted at TV, lost my sense of humour and realised that I only had fifteen minutes to write a post. I do have a little time after getting back from dropping him off, but it can be a bit touch and go. I will try not to let it happen again.
Unfortunately, the gardens have been attacked again. All the plants that escaped destruction last time have been tipped over, crushing seedlings and losing seeds, including seeds bought by individual members of the group. A lemon tree, which has been growing in a pot for several years has been smashed to pieces, all the drawers searched, screws, nails and tools thrown around and Feathers McGraw has been dismantled again. They also damaged the plastic in the door this time.
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The group members are upset, perplexed and annoyed. The police are doing their best. Julia has been preparing a press release, hoping to get some support and possibly donations, but she’s been told not to by her boss, and even banned from putting anything about the attacks on their private Facebook group.
This has put the start of the growing season back by a couple of months. Thank goodness we hadn’t moved the new cacti and succulents down to the gardens.
We’re now travelling back in time. It’s back to Monday morning this time, to a time before the Sheringham Fish and Chips. I put the the postcode for Strumpshaw Fen into the sat-nav and was once again mesmerised by its capacity for random navigation and time travel.
It started off by leading me in what I thought was the wrong direction and then took a turn for the worse as we took in a selection of narrow roads with grass growing down the centre. It was like taking a trip into a time of more relaxed transport and I’m sure I saw a Hay Wain in the distance.
From the lack of Swallowtail picture in the header you may be able to deduce that things did not exactly go to plan. You may also search in vain…well, you’ll find out in good time. For now I will keep the tension building.
The first thing we saw as we crossed the railway line to the reserve was a bat, which fluttered down into a bush. They have Pipistrelles in the roof of one of their buildings, though they don’t usually fly in daylight. It might, we agreed, be suffering from the heat.
Pipistrelle Bat, Strumpshaw
We took a walk through the woods, looked at the wire contraptions that used to shelter orchids, saw a few surviving orchids, pointed a camera at several butterflies and muttered bad words at my lack of success in actually photographing them. Ditto for dragonflies.
We did see a Marsh Harrier, but, to be fair, they are hard to miss. The Canadian lady who was in the hide at the time was ecstatic at seeing one, and the conversation moved on to her difficulties in seeing Polar Bears in Northern Canada. It was nice to think of a cold place while burning up in the middle of a Norfolk reed bed.
Marsh Harrier over Strumpshaw Fen
Whilst listening to tales of the frozen north I noticed that a Comma had settled next to the path. As soon as I pointed the camera at it, it flew away. It’s a common butterfly and I have lots of shots of it, but it was still vexing to miss yet another shot.
I also missed a White Admiral – twice. We had good views of them, but they didn’t settle long enough for a photograph.
I was able to get some damselflies, some blurred dragonflies and, after returning to my primeval origins, hunt down a darter.
Ruddy Darter, Strumpshaw
Ruddy Darter, Strumpshaw
Ruddy Darter, Strumpshaw
This is a Ruddy Darter. Probably.
Common Blue Damselfly
These are Damselflies – possibly a Common Blue and a Blue-tailed.
Finally, as we sat under an ivy-covered tree, drinking tea and (in my case) restocking my calories with a big chunk of flapjack, I noticed a butterfly. It was the tomato soup red colour of a Comma, which was a poor second prize for a day of butterfly spotting in Norfolk.
However, as I zoomed in I noticed it was a completely different shape to a Comma.
And that was how we managed to take a photograph of a Silver-washed Fritillary.
That evening, after chips, we took a ride out into the marshes, where I enjoyed myself taking blurred photos of larks and pipits, missing a shot of a female Marsh Harrier and, eventually, getting some shots of sitting people and moored boats. They move slowly so I can manage them.