Monday, 27 February 2012

Spring is Sprung


Spring is sprung
The grass is riz
I wonder where the birdies is
The bird is on the wing they say
But that’s absurd!
I always thought the wing was on the bird.

More Crocuses!
That old rhyme was told to me by my Father and for some reason it resonated and stuck in my head. It is traditionally sung with a thick New York accent. I have not attempted to capture this in writing, but imagine boid instead of bird etc. and you will soon get the picture.
Darling Daffs of March
The birds are in fact all of a twitter. It’s nesting/mating time and the sap is rising!
Buds Fizzing On a Plum Tree
It’s a well-known and easily remembered fact that St. Valentine’s/Pancake Day tends to coincide with the appearance of frog and toad spawn it the ponds and lakes.
More Plum Blossom Bursting to Open
Daffodils will soon fill the verges with swathes of yellow and we can once again romantically wander, lonely as a cloud.
Beautiful Springtime
The various types of plum trees and blackthorn bushes are already bursting with buds.
Plum Blossom Heralds the Onset Of Spring
After this last warm weekend (I was in my tshirt), those of us who look, will notice more flowers in the trees - the hedgerows will soon be festooned in blossom. That’s right, the white blossom you spot in the hedgerows now will soon develop into young plums or sloes, so remember where you see it- there’s no fruit without flowers

Friday, 24 February 2012

River of Shame

I managed to find space in my busy life to get out on the river for a row. This was my first outing of the year but it has been very cold recently.
On this day however, it was beautiful warmweather, the tide was full and the river was calling me. It was an impulse decision; so I left my grocery shopping in the boat house and hastily launched the good ship Magpie.
I love rowing, it’s very good exercise but mainly I love it because you get a very different perspective of the city from on the water. Sometimes, apart when you hear a siren or a train rattles past, you would not know that you were in the middle of a large metropolis.
As I got up river toward Woodmill and the reed beds, I began to feel all “Wind in the Willows” and started looking out for birds and wildlife. There are many quite rare birds on the river, I have seen the turquoise flash of iridescent kingfishers, majestic Great Crested Grebes, Black throated divers, among others and on special days - a very playful seal.
What does depress me though is the amount of needless rubbish that thoughtless idiots throw into the river. These precious reed beds will soon be the nesting place for swans, ducks and other wild creatures and yet they are choked with discarded plastic drink bottles and other detritus.
I once provoked a storm in the Echo newspaper, regarding fly-tipping in the river by the Saltmead estate and as a result of that, this criminal activity virtually stopped - perhaps something similar could be prompted here.
We should be proud of our beautiful parks and riverside walks. The people who left this litter were presumably enjoying the park like everyone else, so what is it that makes them spoil this special environment for themselves and everyone else? It must be selfishness, stupidity or lack of education.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Attack On Manure Mountain

The Allotment
Last year, friends of ours obtained an allotment, with the price of food rising, this made good sense. Like us, they are keen amateurs and their allotment is an oasis of calm in the middle of the city.  It is a pretty big space though, especially for a busy family with kids; so they asked us and other friends, if we would like to join in and make it a communal effort. 
Lovely Weather For It
The first job was defining where the beds were going to be and removing as much of the weeds and rocks as possible from the ground. While doing this preparatory work, late last summer, we caught a slow worm and brought him home so that he could be released to feast on the ants and slugs in our garden. When I was a boy, I had a pet grass snake but he kept escaping and scaring my mum.

The next stage was to thoroughly dig all the beds over and weed them. This is really hard work, especially if you don’t have much spare time and are not used to it. So it does pay to have a few extra contributors who will help when they can. Once the beds had been roughly turned over, we left them to allow Jack Frost to break the ground up a bit further.
Attack On Manure Mountain
Then, in a fit of enthusiasm, Pete recklessly ordered a trailer full of manure from a local farm in Rownhams. The tractor duly arrived and delivered the pile of poo/straw; the job now, was to spread it over the various beds to nourish the ground before planting.
Another Barrow Load
The mountain of muck looked a daunting task when we first arrived, but the sun was out and we soon put a significant dent in it. Using our forks, spades and a wheelbarrow, we distributed it about the site while the kids worked to help spread it out.
Looking Better
Then, reinforcements arrived. Fortunately they came bearing banana cake, our fig-roll and doughnut supply was running dangerously low at this point.
A Pretty Good Effort So Far
After all the hard graft, the fun part is thinking about what to plant, I’m definitely having some raspberries and blueberries in my plot, I love being able to eat the tastiest fruit straight off the plant.
The Full Team, Hard At Work
I think a nice little tree makes sense too; something that gives us luscious fruit early in the season seems a sound idea. We’ll also be planting some exciting root vegetables; so we’ll have something to bring home for the Head Chef.
Of Course, It's Not All Hard Work...

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Sledges and Snowballs

That One Just Missed Me
That Warm December and January has now been kicked into history by a sustained cold spell. This gave us hard frosts and very low temperatures for a few weeks. Sometime it was so dry that there was no frost but it was still very cold.
Ready To Run
Then finally the snow came, the children were excited when it began but in Southampton the white stuff often does not settle. I’m never sure whether this is due to our proximity to the sea or the little known fact that the city is partly heated by geothermal energy…
Zooooom (see the video below)...
That’s right, Southampton used to be a spa town in the Victorian age! Now though the hot water is drawn up from a mile or so beneath the surface to heat the city and I’ve always suspected that those hot rocks are what prevent the snow from settling. I can still remember in my youth, seeing a distinct line right across the common with snow to the north and grass to the south.
When I recently ventured to Winchester to see a gig, I noticed snow had settled by the train station while there was none at home. So the next day we drove to Farley Mount with our sledge, fortunately the hill faced away from the sun and the snow was still dry and packed – perfect for sledging and not too busy!
It Will Be Good Hazelnutting Here Later
We had a great day out - the kids were happy and exhausted by the time we left. Farley Mount is a fun place to visit any time but the layer of snow made it even more magical.
A Christmas Card For Next Year Perhaps

Friday, 3 February 2012

Snowdrops and Crocuses

After the cold and dark season has set in, it is always a pleasure to spy the first fresh flowers when they pop up. These flowers are not a Sign of Spring, rather an indication that Winter is progressing in its customary way; giving us faith that the light and warmth will eventually return.
Snowdrops in Winchester, Near the Cathedral
Snowdrops are usually the first and traditionally show their pretty white faces in clumps or drifts from January through February, I did even notice some last year in December. They are often found in churchyards or in hedgerows by fields. Galanthophiles (snowdrop fanciers) eat your hearts out!
Snowdrops in Salcombe, Last December!
The next flower to show is the colourful crocus adding a vibrant tinge to roadside verges and parks through February; this makes a pleasant change from the ice, frost, mud and cabbage with which the month is normally associated (Northern hemisphere).
Beautiful Crocuses on the Verge
Crocuses come in many hues; amber, yellow, white, cream, purple and mauve are common. Often one welcome swath of colour will be gradually replaced by another, giving an animated show, handsome enough to make my chilly, daily cycle-ride into work almost worth all the effort.
A Dew Drenched Ivory Crocus
The spice Saffron, frequently used to season and colour curries, is made from the dried stigma of crocuses. This seasoning is exceptionally expensive but I could never endorse the vandalising of these Winter jewels for this use – they give too much visual pleasure.

This Will Look Different Today; It's -5 deg C and I'm in Bed with a Temperature ;-(

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Catkin Collections

A Catkin Shower Catching the Winter Sun
One tree that is easy to spot, even in the depths of winter, is the Hazel; this is because the flowers of this tree are catkins and these tiny treasures are currently dangling from a hazel hedge, tree or coppice near you, right now.

Catkins Blowing in the Breeze
Children love picking and collecting catkins; possibly because they look like caterpillars, but they disintegrate fairly quickly, either that or they end up in their trouser pockets clogging the washing machine, along with other curious miscellaneous items.
Another One For The Collection
I always think that they look like little localised, frozen showers hanging by the roadsides, but for me they are very helpful to identify where there might be a nice crop of Hazelnuts later in the year. In the summer you can revisit the places and see if any hazelnuts have developed. It can be harder to recognise individual trees when everything has turned verdant green - you can't see the trees for the woods, as it were.
Good Things Come To Those Who Know Where To Find Them
Can You Spot The Hazelnuts?