Friday, 27 March 2009

Wild flowers

Normally I charge through the churchyard at a rate of knots as it is right at the end of the walk. Accompanied by a very bored dog, I got down on my knees (appropriately enough, I suppose) and looked at the flowers.


A violet - I think possibly a cultivated and not a wild variety. The first photograph went wrong but I prefer it to the one which went right.

Have not the faintest clue what this is, though I ought to know. I actually thought it was groundsel, but then found that was something completely different, and not even the same colour.

Shepherd's Purse.

Red dead nettle.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

My Little Pony goes cool

I never thought it would be possible. A My Little Pony I wouldn't mind giving house room too. Just do hope, though, that they never meet this.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The garden's growing without me

What well tempered things gardens can be. Despite absolutely no input from me for months, flowers are flowering.

Fortunately the wildlife needs no input from me anyway (and, as I like to tell myself, benefits from my idleness. My heaps of uncleared leaves are a refuge for something, I'm sure.) Bees have been out for a couple of weeks, and I also saw Brimstone, Tortoiseshell, Comma and Large White butterflies. Even with the zoom, couldn't get close enough to photograph, as the butterflies seemed to object to my doggy follower. As she likes to eat butterflies, I could see their point.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Charity Shop Shopping

I got quite excited when I picked up The Times on Saturday: Charity Shop Chic it said. Ooh I thought. I love charity shop shopping: without it I would have precious little to wear, so I was hoping for an article that might add to my store of knowledge.

Lisa Armstrong, The Times' fashion editor, has by her own admission not bought anything in a charity shop since 1985, so her advice was not, actually, a great deal of help. It amounted to a lengthy puff for Mary Portas' new tv programme on helping re-vamp charity shops, and remarkably little in the way of advice for those new to charity shop shopping.

I am not new to charity shop shopping: my annual clothing budget is miniscule. With the house-that-eats-money (and yes, I'll admit it, a serious book habit as well), there is not a lot left over. So for those of you who are newly credit-crunched, clobbered by ever-increasing bills or who have houses, horses or children who eat gold, here is my guide to charity shop shopping by someone who does actually do it, and who is assuming that you have very little money with which to shop.

So, to one of Lisa Armstrong's few bits of solid advice: buy something that doesn't quite fit because you can get it altered. Not necessarily, you can't. Not if you're on a very strict budget, because if you're going to pay tailor's fees you might just as well go to Primark to start off with and get something that fits and is a darn sight cheaper than alterations.

There is a bit of leeway with buying things that don't quite fit - you can do a bit with belts, shove too long sleeves up your arms or otherwise fiddle a bit, but in my experience buying something that doesn't fit is a total waste of time unless you are absolutely, solid gold certain that you are capable of altering something, and I'm not. I can do basic mending but that is it. However much I might like to be capable of running up a little something, or in best girl's story tradition transforming something into a stylish little number by a few artistic flourishes, it's not going to happen. Better to wait for something that does fit. If you are one of those who can whip up little somethings with a flying needle, I bow to you.

If you are a sucker for a posh label (and I am, I admit it), beware. It may have a label to die for, be made of cashmere and silk, be your size, and the bargain of the year, but if it's lime green and covered with flounces it's not going to suit you and it never will. Go for what suits rather than the brief smugness of wearing an expensive label that does nothing for you as once you catch sight of yourself in its unflattering glory reflected in the window of the Co-Op you will never wear it again.

Cultivate a strong stomach and patience. Many Charity Shops do not smell good - I am thankful that I don't have much of a sense of smell. Some are better than others. The ones that steam their clothes tend to be less pongy. Some do wash everything (one remark I have learned to treat with deep cynicism as a Cancer Research volunteer is the statement "Everything's washed," as a bag of clothes is handed over) but most don't, which leads me to:

Invest in a decent bottle of handwash lotion. If you are really skint, buying anything that needs dry-cleaning is a waste of time unless it's something like a coat or jacket. An awful lot of things will wash (though a lot won't - beware of anything that has a lining as that might shrink though the outer doesn't and vice-versa.)

Be prepared to spend time, and be flexible. You may set out wanting a pair of trousers, but if there isn't a pair out there in your size and colour, there isn't, but there might be something else. I find my shopping tends to go along the lines of long term and short term: in the long term I know I need to buy x tops to replace the ones that have finally decayed, but in the short term I might find a scarf/skirt/bag that suits. Then again, I might not, but it's the thrill of the unexpected and the utter, utter bliss of getting a colossal bargain that keeps me going.

Some charity shops with a lot of space will reduce clothes if they don't sell. Not all do, and of course if you wait you might miss something but it's worth knowing which ones do if you are down to your last few pounds.

Unless you are very lucky indeed, a dinky little tartan top, or whatever is the current craze, is not going to swim your way in the current season, but if following trends is your thing, then you might be able to find some other way of adding tartan to your wardrobe. Then again, you might not, but you will not die if you don't.

My best buys - a Marilyn Moore cardigan, and a Swaine Adeney Brigg (ritzy maker of equine and country clothes) jacket which I was so pleased with I kept it hanging up on the outside of the wardrobe for a week, as I couldn't bear to consign its beauty out of sight. I sighed to myself with pleasure every time I passed it. I did eventually put it inside, and I love it still.

Ironically, I now find that the clothes mistakes I make are on the rare occasions that I shop in a proper shop. I am so bamboozled by the choice that my self-discipline vanishes. The things I have in my wardrobe that I regret are the ones I bought full price.

The moral issue.... if a charity shop is selling off a Chanel original for a fiver and you know perfectly well it's worth more, do you tell them? That is a tricky one.....


Still on my thing about lichen, here are some more pictures. I did a tentative Google to see if there was a quick and easy guide to lichen identification. Once the guides mentioned the fact that the colour can change according to whether the lichen's growing in sun or shade, and that a bottle of bleach is a handy thing to have about you to fine-tune your identification, I'm afraid I gave up. Oh, and there's also around 15,000 of them.

So, for the moment, I am content to admire and remain ignorant, but what an amazing thing lichen is.

The ones below were growing on a silver birch. It was warm and sunny and these little black and red ladybirds were just stirring.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Watching the world as it goes by....

Missis is just boring, boring, boring..... All she does is fiddle about with piles of books and moan and faff about with the camera. Could life get any more dull?


Thursday, 19 March 2009

Walk in the Woods

This actually all happened on Sunday, but life has been so hectic since then (as I will insist on buying more books, even though I know full well what chaos it will throw me into) that this is the first chance I've had to upload anything.

Just as I was focusing on the other side of Big Foot Pond, there was a huge splash as the labrador decided she could no longer resist all that lovely water, followed by frantic re-focusings from me to try and get her immortalised at her most otter-ish.

There has been a lot of clearance here: the country park was once an ironstone quarry, and the bit below has been overgrown for years. It now looks a bit like one of the circles of hell (though perhaps that's a bit of a poor analogy as it's distinctly underpopulated by suffering souls).

Whether this is a strange catkin from this year, or a hanger-on from last I do not know, but I like it.

Monday, 16 March 2009

The Dream and Reality

I love the bit where they're eating the pony nuts. I used to like flaked maize (does anyone feed flaked maize anymore?) particularly if I could dip it in the molasses bucket. Yum.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade

Diane Lee Wilson: I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade
Harper Trophy: $11.99

available secondhand on Amazon UK

The author's profile on Simon & Schuster

If you count a pony book as one in which girl gets pony (or horse) against all the odds, then this definitely is one, thought not one set anywhere most readers would recognise. This is a story set in the 14th century Mongolia of Kublai Khan, on the Steppes populated by nomadic groups and their horses. The book is told in flashbacks by Oyuna, who when the book opens, is a grandmother. As they watch a foaling together, Oyuna tells her grand daughter about her childhood. Oyuna's foot was crushed when a mare trod on her, and after that she had to fight against what her parents saw as bad luck. What she longs to do is find a horse fast enough to win the long race in the festival at Karakorum. The horse she finds is not the conventional speedy speed: it is an aged white mare, Bayan, and Oyuna chooses the mare after she hears her speak.

You might think then, that this book is a talking horse fantasy souped up with an historical background. It is not a fantasy: although Oyuna would love Bayan to speak to her all the time, she doesn't and the moments they communicate are quite rare. The most magical happens just after Oyuna and her father have bought Bayan, when Oyuna suddenly experiences the world through the mare's eyes, ears, and even sense of smell.

"... I even heard the water rippling away from one crane's plunge after a fish. And then, as I held my breath near to bursting in amazement, the even softer scurry of tiny mouse feet through the grasses tickled my ears."

This I found more believable than the raft of fantasy pony stories with mystical ponies. There is nothing mystical about Bayan: the great thing about their comunication is that it happens so seldom it is actually more believable: just occasionally the world of human and horse intersect. I felt it was such a small shift from what you do with your own horse, when you are standing there with them and feel that with just the tiniest shift in reality, they could speak. This book makes that tiny shift.

The talking is absolutely not the main focus of the story: Oyuna uses Bayan to overcome her bad luck. Her society sees luck as an outside agency, which you must take every step to propitiate. It is something that happens to you, and to which you react, and not something which you can influence (which I suppose is actually quite similar to a phrase which always makes me twitch "Oh, it was meant to happen." Not necessarily.) Oyuna has begun to see there might be another way of looking at life, and then her shamaness grandmother, Echenkorlo, visits, and she has quite other ideas:

"You want to ride the race and win. To capture good luck and ride it home. But I ask you, Oyuna, my grandchild, do you not see both good luck and bad luck around you always? Can you not reach out," Echenkorlo said, extending her open palm before me, "and take either good luck or bad luck into your hand?"

From this point, Oyuna does make her own luck. Although she moves away from what her society expects, it doesn't reject her. I don't know enough about Mongolian society to know if it really was flexible enough to absorb Oyuna's journey and behaviour, but it seems entirely believable, as Diane Lee Wilson portrays it. She never patronises a very different world view, but shows her heroine remaining within her society.

Diane Lee Wilson takes you inside the head of a Mongolian herder girl and make you quite comfortable there. Oyuna herself is such an attractive character. She's not bumptious, stroppy or unbelievable: she is extremely strong willed, but managed to combine this with humilty: in fact the whole cast of chracters is a delight, from the little cat Bator through the Emperor Kublai Khan to Genma, head of the arrow station.

This book should really have a much wider public than just those who like their stories with added horse: I found learning about such a different society completely fascinating, and Oyuna's journey had me rivetted. The horse element is central, but the author allows her characters to move and shift throughout the story, and doesn't tether them so ruthlessly to the equine world that they are nothing more than plot elements allowing the horses to appear.

New catalogue

At last, the new catalogue is online. As ever, I have not managed to read all the things I wanted to which are for sale, so now begins the slightly perverse process where on the one hand I want to sell books (so handy when one wants to buy food) but on the other I don't want them to go so quickly that I don't have chance to read and comment on all the stuff I haven't read. Hey ho.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Spring is springing

Funny how a certain combination of blue and green makes any view look like a postcard shot.

Yew flowers. The yew in the front garden is billowing great clouds of pollen dust every time the wind blows.

Vetch foliage.

I do like the way the lichen has taken what was a pretty unprepossessing fence post of reinforced concrete and made it really rather beautiful. I am a bit of a lichen nut anyway, and like the one on the elder buds above: not lichen nut enough to be able to identify any. Maybe it's about time I learned.

There are still a lot of beautiful hangovers from winter: I was always fascinated by the ash tree in the garden at home when growing up and used to love waiting for the keys to spiral down to earth.

So much of what I know about the natural world came from Enid Blyton's Book of Nature, now thankfully reissued.
Alas, there is no point whatsoever getting a copy for my children. I loved this book: loved looking out for everything . Some things, like coltsfoot, I didn't see until years after - quite how I managed to miss such a common plant I don't know, but I did. I blame living in cities for 20 years. The things I'd never managed to see but which were mentioned in the book lived on, and still do live on, in my memory, waiting for me to see them one day. There's an excellent blog here which is becoming a sort of virtual nature table.