Put on a happy face


It is Spring. On Monday our old friend Vernon Equinox made it official. Good old Vernon. For further confirmation, if such be needed, look out of the window and observe the rain. It is wet. Very wet. Wetter than Mrs. Thatcher’s cabinet. And the garden is yellow. Forsythia. Primroses. Daffodils. Lesser Celandines. Throw in a few violets, the wood anemones, cherry blossom, magnolia, camellias and hordes of hungry lagomorphs and you can be sure that Spring is here. The woodpeckers and nuthatches are tidying up last years cavities. The pheasants are strutting around and rising up to drum their wings. This is my patch. Keep off. The diminutive wren launches stealth raids on the contents of my moth trap. The Chiffchaff has arrived to its own personal fanfare. I even thought I heard a passing Sedge Warbler in the muddy part of the wood yesterday.

All of which is balm to the soul, confronted as it is by contemporary politics.

A chum of mine described Trump45 as an embarrassment. I almost prefer Colt 45.

Che gelida manina,
se la lasci riscaldar.
Cercar che giova?
Al buio non si trova.

A tragic opera in a series of dumb acts.

I watched Comey and Rogers and felt a vague sense of relief that perhaps there might be a happy ending after all. And how I cheered the wonderful Kristina Dunz, the reporter who finally shouted the emperor has no clothes. Still, the story has some mileage left in it yet.

And in the meantime we have a family wedding to look forward to. Cost Centre 2 will tie the knot in December. We are now mulling over maybe leaving the carnage of post rational Britain and returning to the People’s Republic of Hong Kong. We have spent five of the last eight weeks there and realize that whatever the benefits of Brexitstan, life in the colony may be better.


Originally this post was different, rather more macabre. Fate however intervened and I didn’t finish it. That was fortunate in the light of the events at Westminster this week. I was working in the City when both the Stock Exchange and The Baltic Exchange were bombed by the IRA. The Bulldog Spirit prevailed then and it will prevail now. For all of the dangerous egomaniacs around today – Kim, May, Trump, Erdogan, Mugabe and a good few others – the world still grinds forward and evolves faster than politicians, bringing us improvements we could never dream of. We have to learn how to adapt to some of them but the basics of hunger relief, child mortality and absolute poverty are diminishing. There has to be optimism alongside the mourning for common decency and the blinding rage of populism.

In contrast to the day I started this, the sun is shining and there is warmth in the air. The long shadows are of lengthening days and trees in bud. And there is life in the old dog yet.

ZEN Lulu



A phosphorous blue sneer.

As the year draws to a close what more can a man do than stick his head in a pile of leaf litter and search for hoverfly larvae. That is what I did this morning and very enjoyable it was too. 2016 has not been the best of years. Last year I said to myself, cheer up. Things could be worse. So I cheered up and sure enough things got worse.

Next year looks to be tricky too. I shall embark on my 7th and probably last decade. Of course the world may end as well in which case I shan’t miss much. In the meantime leaf litter is my new raison d’être. I am finding all sorts of goodies in it. Today was my introduction to the gall of Neuroterus anthracinus . It is about the size of a pinhead, whitish with (pardon the technical lingo) red splodges on it. Yesterday I was knee deep in the eggs of a shield bug and photographing not one but two Melangyna cincta larvae. Of course you also find the odd slug, a few earthworms, some fly-type things and a host of other creatures that scuttle, wriggle and flee.

Christmas was tolerable this year. Borderline good in fact. We decided to eat out and booked ourselves into Brasserie Blanc. They did us proud. The hallmark of a decent Christmas lunch is the quality of the crackers. Not the cheese ones but the ones that go bang. Ours went very bang very loud. So loud in fact that the gift within flew like a North Korean test missile and landed on the neighbouring table. A set of gingerbread men cookie cutters. Just what Mrs. Ha wanted. And as I hadn’t bought her anything else that was just as well. She did in fact get an eternity ring but that was for our wedding anniversary. It’s called an eternity ring because it will take me an eternity to pay for it. When she said she wanted a carat I was all ready to hoof it over to Sainsbury but I misunderstood.

Our next outing of note is back to Honkers for the lunar New Year. We are away almost 3 weeks which means poor old Princess Lulu has to spend the time at Butlins and she won’t like that. She doesn’t take well to the Morning campers, Hi-di-hi routine. And they don’t have under floor heating. Come to think of it neither does our apartment in HK.

2017 starts in a few hours and it had better be good. I want my money back on 2016. From Brexit to Exit Bowie and ending with the demise of she who sang Tammy, it has been a disaster. I predict the implosion of the EU next year. That should cheer us all up. I looked out of the window at 4pm today and the mist was lying just above the ‘lawn’ (moss) in a thin stratum. It gradually thickened and expanded, not unlike my waistline. Too many gingerbread men. With age comes the wisdom that I really don’t know much. It also comes with a bad shoulder, a wobbly knee and greying hair. Sometimes I look in the mirror first thing and wonder who on earth it is. Only Lulu seems perennially content with life, as long as you don’t count the fact that she only uses 3 of her 4 legs these days. It doesn’t seem to bother her as long as she has ham, toast and jam and some health-giving biscuits for breakfast. This is a winning combination for canine flatulence I am sad to say. At least, that’s my story and I am sticking to it.

On that cheery (?) note I wish my reader a very happy new year. Unless you voted for Brexit or Trump. As my old boss John Pugh used to say: I’m not a vindictive man but, and this is a big but, I’ll ‘ave ‘im.

Goodnight all.

Life’s a Beech

The extended process of leaf fall continues. For a month or more the garden Oaks have bedecked the perimeter in burnt gold. Islands of green make the finery especially eye-catching. The Acers are almost finished and the Ash already stands bare, revealing its mistletoe. The Beech and the Poplars have turned too. The Field Maple is a bright greenish yellow, shining out against the backdrop of the wood behind our fence.

Three weeks ago we felled a poplar. The frequency with which it was dropping heavy limbs was becoming dangerous. So the lower trunk now lies awaiting what nature will. The upper trunk lies cut into rings. Some are going to be turned into tabletops. Others will be split and stored. The leaves go to leaf mould. The branches went to chippings and mulch. Nothing has been wasted.

My interest in leaf mines continues. I spend a lot of time staring down my ageing microscope. This has brought me into a closer relationship with trees than ever before.

After the big blow of Storm Angus the garden is covered in leaves; the impossible jigsaw, more pieces than space and no blue sky to start us off. Suddenly the Ash is reaching up, gnarled fingers like Sadequain, bare, arthritic and up-pointed. I fishnet the pond clear, a daily chore I welcome. As I walk out I gaze upwards and check the treetops for life. Then round the bushes, snapping my eyes across to any bird chatter. The rattling Mistle Thrush, the seeping Treecreeper and the Firecrests, my annual hearing test that I celebrate passing one more time. A Grey Wagtail struts across the leafy lawn, picking at mid-morning dim sum.

Inside the logs burn hot and the dog inspects my work, nuzzling against my legs as I sit on the wooden floor, feeding the flames with another log of Cherry. The curtains are closed, and darkness is shut out. The only glow is the twin tubes of a moth trap, destined to catch nothing most nights. The night is long now and Spring seems far away. Slowly the garden shuts down. These are the nights for reading and thinking. The planning horizon shortens a little each year but long after I have passed to ashes and dust the Oak, the Beech and the Ash will grace the landscape. I cannot live without trees but the trees can live without me.