Starfish

I bloody hate Antiques Roadshow. I made this declaration after sitting down and watching – because it was on – the valuation of a particularly esoteric old toy.

Old toys – apart from ancient, abandoned teddy bears who carry an ineffably sad poignancy – can be very dull. A one-eyed grubby plastic doll, for example, is only a treasure to her owner. This old toy was more interesting than most – a stool made by Stieff, the German manufacturers of collectable and very expensive teddy bears.

The stool was made in the shape of a moderately cuddly giant starfish. It was a starfish who looked as though he’d been well worn.

It also – I am refraining from sexing the starfish as they might well be ambiguous – bore the scars of an owner or visitor who fancied themselves with a pair of scissors. I was one of those children; obsessed with giving their toys a good trim, not really realising that the fur wasn’t actually growing.

On the tip of the starfish tentacles, the sewing had come adrift to reveal a bit of stuffing. The well-groomed, well-spoken expert lady was terribly pleased to point out that while it looked like stuffing, this was no ordinary stuffing. No, it was thinly shaved lime wood, which was why the starfishy stool had kept it’s robust shape for so long. She reckoned it was early 1950’s.

The owners, two sisters (I think)  said it was a gift from mummy, who was a career woman before career women existed and a chocolate engineer toboot. She’d bought it in Germany when the exchange rate was good.

I wonder what, as little girls, they thought of it? I could imagine their faces lighting up at the unwrapping of a Stief teddy bear, but an Echinoderm? Really? Let’s face it, a stool – even one with five legs – is a bit of a shit gift.

It wasn’t a very authentic starfish, although it did have a a red circular mouth part, just where bottoms would have been seated. I wondered if mummy explained this was the mouth filled with lots and lots of razor-sharp rasping teeth. Did she ever mention the neat starfish trick of expelling its stomach out through its mouth in order to surround and digest prey before hauling it all back in again? Probably not at tea time.

So hoo-bloody-ray. Jolly good show all around. How much was the worn stuffed starfish worth? I can’t remember to be honest but the value didn’t stir the hearts of all the slack-jawed gawpers who gather round such discussions looking blank.

Takes something like an old medal to animate them. Jaws were dropped, eyes were widened and there was a collective gasp of surprise and pleasure when the medal expert revealed that the WW1 medal was worth £10,000. But what kind of family would sell a medal?  And what sort of people would buy one?

So often The Precious, which is paraded in the public domain to be valued is a family heirloom which surely no-one in their right mind would want to part with?

So what is the point? To inform and advise us about antiques and the craftsmanship of old? To appeal to our prurient interest in Other People’s Stuff? Or is it a platform on which the unbearably smug can show off their old and rare bits and bobs so that the curious plebs can gather around and watch?

Antiques Roadshow. I bloody hate it.

starfish

Not the same starfish stool but once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all.

Posted in Art, Current Affairs, Seaside | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Happy Easter Weekend!

Bit of a tough week at work last week.

Not so much watching the increasing struggle GPs face to cope with massive and increasing workload, but watching the way we as society and the fragmented NHS, weakened by lack of budget and staff shortages, are no longer very able to cope with the demands of the cognitively impaired.

Families are separated and you can’t assume that next of kin who live 200 miles away or half a world away are even interested when old uncle Bert, who’s been living quietly on his own for donkey’s years, suddenly goes do-lally.

A Care Plan isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on if there are no social care staff to turn out and one district nurse can’t do the work of the four nurses that used to handle the caseload.

GPs are supposed to co-ordinate while they are seeing routine patients who made appointments two weeks ago, seeing urgent on-the-day patients with everything from suspected meningitis to lumpy testicles and dealing with multiple “oh but it’s urgent because the patient forgot to order and is going on holidays for Easter” queries from pharmacies.

It was all an uncomfortable foretaste of the future, as dementia occurs earlier in peoples’ lives and becomes very common indeed. What’s to be done with those in that perilous state somewhere between confusion and lucidity? They are capable of making the choice to live independently one day but the next day they may not recognise their own front door.  The answer is a big fat ‘nothing’ until there is a crisis. This is not satisfactory – for anyone.

But enough of the frustrations and peculiarities of work. Saturday, my second day off, was a lazy day. It was a slow, second mug of tea kind of day. I read about the 17th century Seige of Gloucester – most of those killed got popped off because they put their heads above the parapet to peep at the enemy Royalists. I read about the Life of Colonel Edward Massie, the hero of Gloucester whose name was spelled Massie but in most books and public placards is mis-spelled as Massey. Someone should make a film of his life. It’s got everything – masterminding the defence of Gloucester and paying soldiers with his own money, getting imprisoned in the Tower of London and escaping by climbing out of a chimney and fleeing to the Netherlands – and ending up being given a knighthood and a beautiful estate in Ireland.

The weather was cloudy but fresh. I strolled around the garden followed by Leo and Fat Lily, looking at the red buds bursting on the apple tree and the drops of overnight rain still hanging sparkling from the branches. In the pond, the duckweed proliferates, lime green against the dark murk of the pond. Pretty with irrepressible tendencies. Two frogs sat at the shady end of the pond noses out of the water, covered in duckweed.

At the sunny end of the pond, big blobs of frogspawn had transformed into trembling dark pools of newly hatched tadpoles – hundreds of tiny black streaks. Only a few are advanced enough to be swimming free – the rest are huddling close, absorbing the light and warmth.

I messed about a bit on Twitter catching up with cycling, my favourite punsters and pals and following some interesting links.  It always seems such a treat to have the freedom to read properly at the weekend because there is so little time in the week.

Headed to the theatre in Malvern later to see Jeeves and Wooster starring Robert Webb of Peep Show fame. It wasn’t at all what I expected – in fact it surpassed expectations being  clever, accomplished and hilariously bonkers. I recommend it wholeheartedly – if only for Robert Webb’s newt impression.

Happy Easter weekend!

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Posted in Cats, Current Affairs | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Kew Gardens

Popped into Kew Gardens on a whim recently. Just happened to be saying goodbye to #2 son at Heathrow, needed petrol at Heston Services and before heading West with a heavy heart, checked to see what was going on at Kew.

Haven’t been there for many many years and there was an Orchid Extravaganza or some such irresistibly-titled orchid event, so there was no contest.

Arrived early on a perfect Spring day, the crocuses were out, some people were already sitting having tea and buns outside the Orangery and the sun had his had on.

There was a photography exhibition which was just my thing, as having been to Beginners Photography, I can now tell my ISO from my elbow and have some clue as to what all the settings data actually mean.  While #1 son disapproves of predictable flower photos, this exhibition proved that *good* flower/plant/wild places photos are actually very very lovely!

So I learned that I mustn’t go too mad and make the depth of field too shallow AND you have to set the shutter on Pretty Damn Fast (ie 1/1250 of a second) to catch seagulls in flight!

#1 son wasn’t too impressed with my seagulls although he did concede that I did ok considering they were taken on manual settings.

“But seagulls are wondrous in their own right,” I said.

“They are aerobatic and dynamic and look at the beautiful tail feathers in the sunlight and the way the sun catches the leading edges of their outstretched wings!” I said.

“Yeah..  but they are just seagulls,” he said.

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Mmmm breakfast!

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Posted in Birds, Countryside, Current Affairs, Photography, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

A frosty morning

You know how it is. You open the bedroom curtains, not expecting much beyond a rain-spattered windowpane and hey presto, it’s all happening!

This particular morning, when blissfully I was not expected into work until 10.30am, there was a widespread and deepening shepherds’ warning. The sky was entirely suffused with pink.

I flung on some clothes, boots, a fleece and ran – there was no time to waste, sunrise happens fast – out of the house with the camera. It was about 7.45 and this was the beginning of what photographers call The Golden Hour. The light was just the most beautiful I have ever seen it in England.  Scotland has the best of the light, with the gloaming going on until the late evening or even the early morning in the very north of Scotland.

Everything was covered by a double frost. In the wood, where the badgers are happily showing lots of signs of activity, their earthworm unearthings were frozen solid.

I wandered, snapped, adjusted settings, snapped some more and generally trudged about marvelling at the light conditions and how lucky I was to be out in it, rather than behind an office window.  A 50mm lens has its limitations but it was fun to be limited.

Pre-sunrise

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Posted in Countryside, Current Affairs, Photography | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

When walking is better than cycling…

I will almost always prefer to cycle but there’s a lot to be said for walking.

Only by walking do you stumble across interesting bits and pieces hidden away.

I’m not talking about the likes of the beautiful piece of Roman villa paving hidden under a bit of tarpaulin in the middle of Spoonley Woods near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire.

I’m referring to something we stumbled across today, an object of mystery and much conjecture, which was hidden away in a wooded valley in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The mud, much as yesterday was thick, glossy and even redder than the environs near Cinderford and after sliding through much of it, found ourselves in beech and poplar woodland with the path running alongside a rushing stream.

The rushing stream had formed a series of decorative pools where the water collected before spilling over the next sill. Capability Brown himself couldn’t possibly have made it any prettier.

The water was crystal clear and the sills seemed to be composed of creamy pale lumpy stone. They continued on and on down the slope as if constructed for an elaborate rock garden feature.

Tree roots stretching across the stream under the water appeared to have become stone.  It looked for all the world like a rough, pale honey-coloured concrete but these weren’t man-made. We had stumbled across the Travertine Dams of the Slade Brook, a geological feature unique in the British Isles – 60 separate travertine dams constructed by nature over 700 metres of the brook.

Not sure I can explain the science, but the stream originates from a powerful spring of lime-rich water which emerges from carboniferous limestone.

As it runs over obstructions in the stream bed, it deposits travertine, a crumbly kind of limestone similar to the stone Michaelangelo used to construct the ribs of the dome of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.  The pools are filled with fine calcareous mud.

Every second of every day, the brook is actively forming travertine, or tufa. I gather it’s sort of similar to the way stalagmites and stalactites are formed.  The brook is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest because it’s so special. The fact that the hydrology of the surrounding area hasn’t changed has ensured its survival so far.

The proper science of it is here 

In other news, I saw interesting new sheep – breed as yet unknown – tripped over a thick bramble and fell into the mud, dropped my camera lens cap into one of the travertine dams (recovered it with a stick) and was bemoaning my OS map’s limited area when one of my pals pointed out it continued on the other side. Cue sniggering and total loss of credibility. Mind you, the Most Amused One made three navigational errors later so I reckon we’re evens.

Approaching St Briavels again after 5 or 7 miles (there were meanderings, mistakes and short cuts so no-one was sure at the end) we met three roadie cyclists – two guys and a woman who were a bit lost.

That’s the thing with all the latest phones and online maps – they only work as long as you have a signal. We gave them directions to Brockweir and had an excellent chat – they too had watched the Tour de France in Yorkshire last year and the Tour of Britain west country stages – before we all went on our way.

They were a bit envious to hear that we were five minutes from a Sunday roast at the George in St Briavels. Justified, as it turned out – the roast was probably the best pub roast I’ve had in years. Tender meat, loads of veggies and really good gravy.  We’ll be heading back to St Briavels very soon with boots or bikes. Yet to be decided.

The Travertine Dams…

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Mystery sheep anyone?  Merino?

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Posted in Countryside, Current Affairs, Science, Watery things | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

A busy day in the Forest of Dean

Busiest day in the Forest of Dean of 2015, according to the lady in the Round Tuit at Mallards Pike as she handed me a hot bacon roll and a polystyrene cup of tea.

There were about ten people visible in total, I suppose but hey, maybe she’d been rushed off her feet earlier and anyway,  it’s all relative isn’t it?

That magic low winter sun was already sinking when we got there at 2.30pm lighting everything up in glorious russet.  The reds of the Forest soil, the stones and the dried bracken all worked in perfect harmony.

There was thin mud, thick mud, shallow mud, deep mud, mud with stones and mud with timber. Mud has to be tackled at speed. He who hesitates is…whoooaaaa… in the gloop. But it’s sometimes interesting to find out what’s underneath it all. Hopefully not a huge hole. :-)

Earlier, a couple of technical problems had threatened to sabotage my plans.

I had new Crud Catchers for the mountain bike. I attached the one on the down tube no problem – a couple of rubber bands were provided. The one for the rear was more of a puzzle. It had an attachment which was supposed to fix around the seatpost but no way of unscrewing the screw. There was just a weird-shaped hole. No screwdriver or Allen key fitted so I had to leave it and send a message to Mr Crud asking him why he made it so tricky to fit his catcher.

My back tyre was a bit squishy and even Joe Blow couldn’t seem to get much air in there. As I disconnected the nozzle, the Shraeder valve was hissing a bit.  There was no time to faff about changing the inner tube so I screwed the dust cap on extra-firmly and hoped for the best.

Consequently,  I got my rear end covered in mud and my rear tyre was a bit soft but otherwise it was lovely to be back out in the Forest. Oh and I wore the wrong gloves – the high-vis Jazz Hands gloves weren’t warm enough. Also, I didn’t wear enough under my jacket because the windchill penetrated more than expected and I could have done with a scarf around my mouth to protect against the cold but otherwise everything was hunky dory, honestly!

Tonking down the trail towards Mallards Pike we saw men running with tree trunks on their shoulders. That’s a first.  They were in the exact same spot where we once saw a segway expedition in full swing – only they weren’t (mercifully) swinging. They were standing bolt upright and looking catatonic in quite at 1960’s bad sci-fi film kind of way. Bizarre.

The log relay looked much less worrying. But there’s usually something going on in the Forest. Last time there was a sled dog meet right in the middle of the woodland and the time before that, a marathon race.

As I was munching my bacon roll – I noticed the wild boar burgers on the menu too late – Mrs Round Tuit said she was looking forward to February 14th.

Expecting a Valentine?

“No, it’s the Wyedean Rally. We do well that day – busiest day of the whole year!”

I remembered the cloud of blue exhaust fumes which hung over the central Forest and the deafening noise of cars tearing up the tracks. I’ll be giving that one a miss.

Arrived home as the sun was setting with just enough time before dark to blast all the mud off the bike with the garden hose and take it into the kitchen for the dry and lube. It’s still there now, leaning against the pew, sparkly clean again. It’s quite lovely.

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Posted in Countryside, Watery things, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Do they sell Hair Shirts in M and S ?

Back on Monday (I haven’t had time to write since then) it was Blue Monday. Reportedly, this is the day of the year when people are at their lowest ebb.

They have the credit card bills to pay from Christmas, it’s the middle of a month of the worst weather with precious little sun and pay-day is still a couple of weeks off.

I don’t usually take any notice of that rubbish, but actually Monday DID seem different.

On the front line (reception desk of a GP surgery) my colleagues reported a big rise in the number of people who were pre-irritated before they even picked up the phone to make the call.

They were already spoiling for an argument, already geared up to counter what they have pre-conceived might be a battle.

It’s easy to defuse this kind of attitude very quickly by unfailing politeness and helpfulness. Who can continue to be irritated if the person you’ve rung sounds pleasant, is considerate and moreover is giving you what you want? They usually want access to a doctor or nurse, but sometimes, you just can’t give them what they want…

“My tooth’s agony and I can’t eat anything. Can I see a doctor today please?”

“Er, you need a dentist for that.”

“I can’t go to the dentist. There are no appointments for two weeks and I need to be seen TODAY!”

Er..

So Monday everyone did seem more irascible and a rad more unreasonable than usual, which was bad news because some people’s default mode is Blunt Verging on Rude and others are merely totally devoid of Charm. They have no idea that a doctor is addressed as “Doctor” rather than “The Fat One Upstairs” or “The One With The Foreign Accent” and they have no conception of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ or any other manners.

But hey, as I’m typing this I feel like I’m throwing stones in a glasshouse.  I have to confess that although I’m pretty civilised around people (apart from idiots who run red traffic lights)  I too fall short of the mark on occasion.

Last Saturday morning, I was half way through breakfast and a warm and delicious slight of brown buttered toast and marm when the doorbell rang.

Hurrying to answer it, in case it was a postman bearing an Amazon parcel, I found two strangers there – a bloke and a boy who was aged about 14.

“Good morning. Who do you think controls the world?” the boy started off…

I groaned. Outwardly.

“Sorry.  Not interested” I snapped and closed the door to return to breakfast.

It was only later, while out for a ride on my bike that I thought about the two people at the door and considered how bloody rude I’d been.

I remembered how I’d dismissed them in a peremptory fashion with not a shred of consideration and certainly no charm whatsoever.

Is it ok to be polite to everyone *except* Mormons or Jehovahs’ Witnesses or whatever they were?

No. I didn’t think so.  It was right out of order set no example to set to the young boy who was asking the ridiculous question that blew my patience.

Anyone know if they do Hair Shirts in M&S?

Oh well, this blog will have to do for now. I can take it off tomorrow…

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