Voles, holes, bats and hedgehogs

Today, June 1st, is the first day of meteorological summer for those of us in the Northern hemisphere. I am assuming there are other measures of when summer starts, although don’t ask me what they are! I imagine it may be related to the retail world and start when the shops want to sell new school uniforms . So a little guidance towards parents reminding them that their little darling will soon be in need of yet another uniform for the new school year in September!

As I child I used to really enjoy my long summer holiday and hated seeing TV adverts by about week two of that break promoting back to school!

But school and school holidays are a long time ago for me now…

For now I just embrace the seasons! Here in the UK we are experiencing a bit of a heatwave and have just had our driest May on record.

This evening’s sunset over my local reservoir

Now as I mentioned a few weeks ago in this blog, I am avoiding writing specifically on the subject of Covid 19 and the personal impact of it. I do realise many people are impacted but much has already been said and I don’t feel I can add to this.

However one of the side effects of our different way of living is the change to our environment and our human perspective on it and each and everyday I see the impact of this.

Many more of us seem to be embracing nature and finding a new appreciation for what is around us. Some of this is just having our eyes open to what is already there. But there are also scientifically proven reductions in pollution, increased opportunities for wildlife to prosper and present themselves to us at closer quarters than normal.

The humble garden vole has now made a significant comeback in our area to the extent that part of our garden is now criss crossed with numerous moles tunnels closely resembling the Spaghetti Junction motorway interchange in Birmingham. Hedgehogs too are having a good season due to reduced road traffic, but are actually suffering now from water shortages. My last gardening job of the day this evening was to create a semi submerged hedgehog drinking vessel, suitable for hedgehog access but not one it can drown in!

And finally bats…maybe not everyone’s favourite animal…although really it’s just a flying mouse that helpfully eats lots of insects. The bats seem to be thriving too and not needing any human intervention.

Life at the moment is hard and very challenging for many, but for those who can embrace it, nature is giving us all a bit more love at the moment, we just need to open our eyes to what is out there.

I am so glad to be smart!

Before rushing off to the Smugness Police to report me for an incidence of extreme arrogance, please be assured I am talking about mobile phones and not my personal attributes of being a genius and master of much knowledge!

As it happens, and it might be a British thing, generally people are always reluctant to blow their own personal trumpet about their intelligence, so actually no risk I am doing this at all.

Taking this to extremes there was a song in the 1980’s by US ‘not many hits wonder’, Dean Friedman, ‘Lucky Star’ where he proudly sings to his ‘in song’ girlfriend, ” You can thank your lucky stars that we’re not as smart as we think we are”.

Why on earth would he say this? This confused me back then every time I heard it and more so now! It seems to have confused other people too as it even gets a mention in his Wikipedia entry!

Meantime back to me and Smart phones……… Why do I mention them? Well one of my millenial children commented today that they too had been part of the generation migrating from ‘brick’ phones to ‘Smart phones’ despite many people often wrongly assuming that this generation was born holding an iPhone.

Almost unimaginable now…going to a box to make a call

Its seems its a very regular barb thrown in their direction…’ you lot don’t know what life was like before all this technology’ etc. but actually they do😁

Why am I so glad to have a Smartphone ? I think it’s almost all to do with having the equivalent of an expensive SLR Nikon or Canon camera always in your hand or pocket…and always in auto mode. I can’t believe that back in the day when I regularly used real cameras I actually spent time adjusting shutter speeds or focal length to cope with light levels or movement.

Having a camera always with me in the days of real cameras (even pocket size digital ones, was a plan but never reality), but now I do have that ‘camera’ there and available to capture moments. For some of them, retrospectively I think….. why?

But the majority, are snapshots of life and allow one to reflect and enjoy.

Date and time stamping photos has also allowed us to compare years, seasons and in a way perhaps embrace and recognise the changing world around us even more.

Now that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate other features available on phones as well.

Google Maps directions has saved the day many a time for me…well that is once I have actually determined which direction the phone map is in compared to my direction of travel. Many a time I have been surprised when my 8 minutes walk destination seems to grow in remaining time rather than decrease!

New city?… buy a map
Or ask someone?

Any features I don’t like?

Yes of course. My phone persistently asks me to review Dave’s Guitar tuition studio! I don’t go there. I have never even seen the place. I don’t own a guitar, but it seems I regularly walk past it, and Google is convinced I am taking lessons.

Thankfully I don’t seem to be regularly walking past anywhere of a less acceptable line of business…otherwise I might have some detailed explaining to do at home!

Hope you are enjoying the blog….

You may be recycling more than you think…

My early memories of recycling as a child in the UK in the not very environmentally focussed 1970’s were confined to old newspapers collected by the scouts to raise their funds,

returnable lemonade bottles returned by myself to raise my funds

and my parents ever growing compost heap to raise the local methane levels.

Fast forward over the next few decades and then there thankfully was more awareness and opportunities culminating in the increasingly normalised approach we have today.

Yes, in most residential districts (but it does surprisingly vary in scope even from municipality to municipality in the UK), you will find an array of recepticles outside houses on ‘recycling collection day’ for glass, paper, cardboard, tins, some plastics and garden waste.

That’s all good stuff and how it should be…but what really encourages me now are the other activities. We are turning old and unused industrial units into homes, old railway lines into bridleways, footpaths and cycle tracks and this is not just in the countryside ….you don’t get more city centre than the Hi Line in New York where an old railway line has created a fantastic inner city walkway, garden and general leisure space.

Its not just about ‘practical re-use of items’ or a breaking down to raw materials when things are too old to fulfil their original purpose. Sometimes the new life can be as an art form. Even old London tube trains can become an artistic canvas!

Not to be outdone, with ideas for new uses for old things, easyJet the low cost airline have an old bus literally attached to the front of their HQ building to create more meeting space.

And on the subject of airlines…how about this as a ‘feature’ for your hotel entrance…

But the best and simplest of all are the charity shops that fill our high streets….old clothes, old books, old music are all recycled to new owners with some money made for a needy cause along the way and delighted new owners buying at low prices. And it really is a win, win. Often these shops are staffed by volunteers and they will be from a wide sphere…retirees wanting to give back to the community, others who find it an opportunity to engage in a lower stress environment than the conventional workplace would allow and actually a whole raft of other reasons.

So remember when you give to or buy from a charity shop, the benefits are spread widely.

Giving, buying, sharing…it’s all about showing some love for the world and treating it with dignity.

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National Treasure

There are many good things about living in the UK…it’s actually very important for those of us living there at the moment to remind ourselves of that, as with the huge Brexit chasm that we live beside it can seem a world full of conflict, divided opinions and distrust of each other. Sounds extreme…well thst is Britain in September 2019…not a pretty political place.

But that aside, we live in a land steeped in history and tradition and we are pretty good at preserving it.

For those not from the UK, the National Trust might sound like some second rate bank or finance house…ready to take your money but not give much back. Well, let me explain…the National Trust is actually a somewhat amazing charity who buy , save or rescue old buildings estates, ancient moorland or indeed anything that is part of our heritage or is at risk.

They then open these to the public and in many cases create viable and sustainable businesses within them. And in doing so preserve nature, traditions and even our coast in a sustainable way.

The imminent release of the Downton Abbey movie and the huge popularity of the TV series demonstrates the interest in buildings duch as these and the people who lived in them and worked, ‘below stairs ‘. The NT have got these by the dozen on their books the length and breadth of the UK. With tea shops, gardens and very often huge open spaces..for our family whenever making a long UK wide road trip we will detour to one of these for a break in our journey.

But all this comes at a price..but not a big one. The NT get no public funding and relies on admission fees, membership fees, bequests, grants, revenues from its some 400 rental cottages ,gift shops and most importantly a huge army of volunteers supporting it’s paid staff. And pound for pound…it’s really great value if you become a member…about £10 a month gives you unlimited access to literally hundreds of places. If you are an overseas or occasional visitor you can of course pay for individual admission. Yes this is a more expensive process, but you know that what you spend is being reinvested into preserving the past for future generations to come.

And as I said, it not all stately homes. My primary school (a convent school ) was housed in classic villa designed by Scottish architect Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson. At age 9 I was oblivious to the style of this building from the 1800’s but absolutely appreciate it now and delighted the National Trust for Scotland were able to save it and restore it to its original style.

And finally a word of caution for any overseas visitors..don’t go through the National Trust handbook or website looking for the fictional Downton Abbey.


Although portrayed as North Yorkshire,  the exterior is filmed at Highclere Castle in Berkshire, still actually  a private dwelling so not in the hands of NT. It’s the home of the Earl and Countess of Caernarfon and only open for limited number of days each year!

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Time to go wild….in the garden

Nature reminded me today that when it comes to skill, nature is streets ahead of everyone else!

As my garden is big, and work and other things have meant that evenings and weekends have been very occupied, I had to have a Plan B in force to keep things in order but still have time to enjoy my garden, rather than become a slave to it.

Essentially plan B is just for our allotment area, which we have next door to our garden which on previous years took many hours of upkeep ….and then have to sadly dispose of unwanted produce! You can only eat and find homes for so much lettuce…

So this year some of this area has had wildflower seeds intentionally sown . There has been no watering (other than by nature), no pest control – slugs, snails, caterpillars, squirrels and birds all welcome; and no staking or supporting of plants. A recipe for failure the gardeners would say…the actual result..for the first time in my life some successes with sunflowers.

Previous attempts have seen me act like an overprotective parent of a young child with protection against wet, cold, illness being thrust upon the plants only to find them fail miserably! And of course it’s not just sunflowers, many other insect friendly plants are thriving in this patch too.

I find now I am in good company with wild flower planting…many UK local authorities who are allowing parts of grass verges and parkland areas to develop naturally- everyone is a winner…it looks good, the insects have new habitats and the authorities save money on grass cutting etc.

So if you have a garden…you too should think about having a little bit going wild too.

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Not every caterpillar becomes a butterfly

I really struggled to book at the hotel I normally use near my employers HQ. They found me a room eventually but explained they were very full as they had a caterpillar conference on.I was somewhat excited by the prospect of my somewhat different fellow guests.Will there actually be caterpillars there? Presumably safely contained in jars to avoid them munching through the hotels plant displays in reception? I also had visions of bearded botantists with magnifying glasses examing their fellow scientists rarer specimens. The scene was truly set.Anyway I arrived to indeed find the place full .But full of salespeople from the cut and thrust world of diggers and bulldozers!In fact, the very things that are one of the threats to the caterpillars world.