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.


If snails be the food of dogs, play on

Well the second painting has been cancelled. When we said 2 weeks ago we wanted it the reaction was ‘we’ll get it couriered to the gallery immediately so you can view it at home’. It was in the Bath gallery. Or was it Lichfield? Then it was still sitting with the framer. Eventually my frustration had the better of me and I said now or never. Never it seems is the answer. There was also a contretemps over the hanging. We wanted to hang it on the landing – tricky I admit. They had however promised an end-to-end service but now that is not available on Health and Safety grounds. I mean to say…….. Is there nothing that isn’t covered by the nanny state? Sorry guv, more than my jobs worth to hang a painting. Here’s how it goes:

We can’t fix anything to the wall. The boss told me.

Why not?

It might fall down and cause injury.

Not if you fix it properly.

It might hit an electric wire.

There are no wires in this wall.

It might puncture a water pipe.

There is no plumbing behind the plaster.

Well I can’t do it. Company policy. Health and Safety. I can give you a hook if that helps.

Maybe we will pick something up in Venice instead. This time next week we shall be airborne and looking forward to our water taxi ride up the Grand Canal.

Afore we go I am pottering in the garden, cutting this, pulling up that, checking my compost etc. Today was a red letter day for pottering. I have a very large mound of hazel chippings from the coppice. It looks curiously and ominously like a medieval burial mound. Right length, width and height. I’m reasonably sure it isn’t but you never know. Be that as it may and notwithstanding I decided to turn it over and give it a bit of air. All was going well until I realized I was about to skewer a rather shocked looking Slow-worm. I have never seen one in this garden before. They are jolly good slug eaters so of course I am delighted to welcome them to the Lodge wildlife park. We both paused. Damocles’ fork hung by a thread and the Slow-worm peered upwards, panic-stricken no doubt, wondering what its chances were. Then belying its name, its head went down and it did a passable impression of little Tommy Daley, diving prestissimo and without so much as a ripple into the depths of the wood chippings. Damocles raised his fork and gently brushed the mulch into a substantial pyramid. The Slow-worm, thereafter named Tutankhamun, has not been seen since and a there is now a curse on the pile of mulch. So I guess it is a burial mound of sorts.

Further preparation for the trip to Venice has been hampered by Lulu’s illness. Multiple trips to the vet and a lot of cleaning up have distracted us as we try to lift her spirits and return her to good health. She was caught chewing a rather large garden snail a few days back. I suspect the outcome was bad for both participants. Now there is a good case for Health and Safety to deal with. Better shells for snails. That’s what we need. In fact, checking my research sources, I think Corbyn J. is campaigning on exactly that platform. I’ll vote for that.