Recent events – and a grumpy gull

We’ve just said goodbye to our two English grandchildren, who came for their first visit in over a year. We hadn’t seen them since last August, so it was lovely to be together again. Lockdown restrictions eased recently, meaning we could start meeting other people indoors again. The weather was finally summery, and we were able to go to the beach. Mrs TD and the kids’ mum, who came for the final two days, went for a swim, joined by the 12-year-old granddaughter, but the water was a bit too cold for me.

Last week we paid our first social visit since before Christmas. Our friends who live nearby, the owners of those fine cats Iggy and Phoebe (they’ve featured a few times in the blog), invited us for coffee and cake. It was such a relief to mix with other people indoors, relax and enjoy stimulating conversation.

We admired their artworks, in particular a strange, vividly coloured crucifixion scene. They told us the artist was a Scot, Craigie Aitchison (1926-2009). They explained that the little dog looking up at the Christ figure, who returned its gaze, was the artist’s much loved Bedlington terrier. He features in many of his works, they told us.

Craigie Aitchison mural treeWe took the grandchildren to Truro cathedral during the week to seek out the four Aitchison murals our friends told us were to be seen there. The style is very distinctive, with vibrant bands of colour and stark, strangely mystical images of the crucifixion scene.

This first one appears to be a tree, perhaps the one that provided the timber for the cross on which the crucifixion took place.

To its left is the first of the scenes depicting Christ on the cross. The same vivid bands of colour form the basis of the image. At the foot of Craigie Aitchison mural cross and dogthe cross, instead of the usual human figures (mourners, soldiers), the little dog walks up to it, perky ears raised. The Christ figure appears to hang from one limp arm on the crossbeam, head bowed.

Next to this is the first image of the Christ figure looking straight out at the viewer. The dog now looks lovingly up at him. A star shines brightly in the sky above, and streaks of light or energy emanate from the figure on the cross. A blue bird – presumably symbolising the holy spirit, perches companionably next to the figure’s left hand.

Craigie Aitchison mural crucifixion

The mural on the far left of the four panels is a sort of mirror image of the first. This time the Christ figure’s right arm hangs over the crossbeam. The dog is no longer present.

Craigie Aitchison mural far leftI’m not sure how to read all the imagery, but each picture glows with a quiet energy. Despite the painful iconography, the simplicity and…I don’t know…charm of the scenes leaves me with a sense of happiness and hope. I’m not a Christian, but I can respond to the serenity of these images.

Grumpy gull FalmouthAfter our trip to the beach, we took the children to Falmouth docks, where we hoped to see the Estonian cruise ship that’s to be the floating hotel for some of the hundreds of extra police officers being brought in to police the area for the G7 conference. This takes place next week in Carbis Bay, near St Ives. The ship wasn’t there, but I liked the grumpy expression of this seagull perched on the railings above the docks.

Buttercup fieldWhen the children had left for home with our daughter yesterday we went for one of our local walks. Here to end this post is a view of the horses’ field that’s featured in previous posts, now a mass of shimmering yellow buttercups, with pink clover among them. A circling buzzard overhead isn’t discernible in my picture, but it’s good to know it was there, keeping an eye on things below. Despite the rather hazy focus, I hope it’s still possible to see the beauty of nature.

Back to books next time (probably).

 

 

 

Summer is come

This will probably be the last post of May: our two English grandchildren are coming to stay tomorrow – the first time we’ll have seen them for seven months.

This handsome great spotted woodpecker has become addicted to the fancy fatballs I’ve been putting in the bird feeder; he gets through one or two a day, costing me a fortune. The long-tailed tits like them, too. They come in little busy gangs.

Here then is a range of pictures taken yesterday, when here in Cornwall was the only part of the country covered in thick cloud. Elsewhere summer had finally arrived, after a miserably wet, cold month. It’s a week when our feckless PM’s sinister former adviser spilled the beans about the chaos and ineptitude our government has shown most of the time in dealing with the pandemic in the UK. Among his criticisms was the transparently false claim by the health minister that he’d put a ‘ring of steel’ round care homes, when infected elderly patients were being discharged without Covid tests into those same homes.

Let’s lighten the tone. First, the birds have been a constant source of delight during this unseasonably chilly late spring. I’ve still not seen any swallows, swifts or martins around my city, but I’ve posted recently about seeing some a little further afield.

Weeping tree umbrellaYesterday’s walk in the local park took me underneath this wonderful tree’s canopy. It’s a weeping something or other – beech?

Standing there felt like being in a green tent. Just a pity that the sky was grey, not blue.

These vivid yellow flowers grow in the hedge just down the road from our house. According to my plant identifier app they’re autumn hawkbit. I’m not sure about this: should they be flowering in late May, with a name like that?Autumn hawkbit

LilyAt the end of our road are some lovely gardens – I’ve posted pictures recently of some of the gorgeous spring blooms in them. These lovely lilies (I think they’re lilies of some kind) started flowering just over a week ago. What a colour!

 

A few houses away from us is this garden wall. I rather like this strange plant growing implausibly out of the mortar. I presume it’s some kind of lichen.

This morning the sun finally shone – though there are still some clouds around.

 These beautiful roses are growing in a pot outside our front door. The buds are pink and white, but the blooms are pure white when in full flower. So that’s it for this May. I’ve just finished reading Jakob Wasserman’s strange, gothic novel Caspar Hauser. When I’ve figured out if I was bored or enthralled by it I’ll post here – once the grandchildren have gone home next week.

More late spring wanderings

I’ve been thinking about Anita Brookner’s fine but disturbing novel Look At Me, which I finished earlier this week, but need to think about it a little longer before posting on it. I’ve moved on to another novel passed on to me by Mrs TD – post forthcoming on that one, too.

In the meantime, here are some more floral images from some recent walks. Flowers and shrubs are really thriving now, even in this unseasonably chilly, damp and windy May.

PelargoniumThe pelargoniums (or geraniums) in our garden are looking particularly lovely at the moment. This picture was taken just after one of the many showers we’ve had recently.

The etymology of this plant is interesting. ‘Geranium’ derives from the Greek, via Latin, for ‘crane’ (the lanky bird, not the building site machine), while ‘pelargonium’ follows a similar route from the Greek for ‘stork’. This is said, by OED online, to be because the seed pods resemble these birds’ beaks. An early English name for them was ‘cranesbill’. I haven’t checked to see why we use ‘beak’ and ‘bill’ – maybe another time.

Rhododendron My morning walk today took me through the grounds of Epiphany House, which I’ve posted about before HERE. Here the rhododendrons are also looking their finest.

This name is from the Greek for ‘of, relating to, or resembling a rose…rose-coloured, pink, red.’ The second element is from dendro-, Greek for ‘tree’. I recall using the word ‘dendrologist’ in my previous post about Richard Powers’ novel about trees, The Overstory.

The word in English could originally signify ‘oleander’ (from the 16-18C; aka rose bay); the secondary sense we use now dates from 1657. The origin of ‘oleander’ is uncertain; it comes from French via post-classical Latin ‘lorandrum’, an alteration of ‘rhododendron’, possibly by association with ‘olea’ – olive tree, or from ‘lauriendrum’ – possibly from the word for laurel, as the shape of the leaves was similar. OED includes this citation:

1526    Grete Herball cccxxv. sig. Siv/1   Oleandre or olipantrum is an herbe the leues therof is lyke to laurell but they be longer.

Pacific rhododendron I wasn’t sure if this beautiful shrub in the gardens was a rhododendron, so I checked with my plant identifier app: it’s a Pacific rhododendron, aka California rosebay or big leaf rhododendron. The app says it’s a species of azalea (rhododendron), suggesting the two names are commonly interchanged.

I’m not sure if this is right. ‘Azalea’ derives from the Greek ‘azaleos’ – ‘dry’, because of the sandy soil in which it thrives, or else for its dry, brittle wood.

Both shrubs apparently belong to the botanical family Ericaceae.

You’d think the naming of plants would be more straightforward.

I’m just delighted to see them in my neighbourhood while we’re still confined in our movements by pandemic restrictions. They brighten the day, and lift the spirits.

 

Orchids and bluebells

I’m making slow progress through a long novel: Richard Powers, Overstory. It’s not one to rush. It’s about trees.

Here then are some pictures of yesterday’s walk on the coast of the Roseland peninsula. I’ve posted about this beautiful stretch of the Cornish coast several times before, usually with pictures of blue sky and cobalt sea. Not so yesterday: it was a blustery, grey day. House martins were swooping over the shoreline rocks, like tiny black-and-white terns.

The blossom I posted about last time had finished, and the blackthorn and hawthorn was turning pale green with new young leaves bursting out.

Bluebells view west

The view west towards Portscatho

Halfway through our walk we came upon a series of hillside fields overlooking the sea that were carpeted in bluebells – a lovely sight. My phone camera’s pictures can’t really do justice to the smoky violet-blue haze these flowers create.

Among the flowers and grass were also dozens of tiny purple orchids.

The name comes from the Greek orkhis – ‘testicle’ – because of the shape of the twin tubers in some   Orchidsvarieties. Not a very glamorous etymology for such a handsome plant.

According to my walks app, this particular type of wild orchid is the con artist of the plant world. Its brilliant purple flowers resemble those of other nectar-rich orchids. When insects arrive and push through the pollen to seek out the nectar, they find that there is none.

I’ll end this short post with an exchange I recorded in a notebook a few years ago. I’d been to St Michael’s Mount with Mrs TD and two grandchildren. We’d been looking round the museum exhibits inside the building that tops the island rock. One was a mummified Egyptian cat. I said that it was surprisingly long and thin. ‘That’s because,’ said Mrs TD, ‘cats are all fluff and nonsense.’

View east towards Pendower beach

View east towards Pendower beach

 

Spring sunshine and apricity

Hare

Perky hare: explanation below

I have the ability to note an interesting piece of information, forget it, come across the same point at a later date and remember it all over again. I don’t think this is an age thing; I’m sure I’ve done this most of my adult life.

An example earlier this week: I read an article in the Guardian newspaper (link HERE) by Hannah Jane Parkinson extolling the virtues of apricity: ‘It was cold, but the sun had lingered, and there existed that glorious mix of chilly air and clear, bright skies.’ I turned to the OED for a formal definition (slightly abridged below):

obsolete:

 ‘The warmeness of the Sunne in Winter.’ Cockeram 1623.

Etymology: < Latin aprīcāt- participial stem of aprīcāri to bask in the sun, <  aprīcus

rare.

 [Verb form apricate:] 1.  intransitive. To bask in the sun.

1691    J. Ray Let. to Aubrey 22 Oct. in J. Walker Lett. Eminent Persons (1813) II. 159   Cæsar, I think, said that verbum insolens tanquam scopulum fugiendum est. I’ll name you one or two, to apricate, suscepted, vesicate.

 2. transitive. To expose to sunlight. Also transferred.

1839    T. De Quincey Lake Reminiscences in  Tait’s Edinb. Mag. July 461/2   Not sunning, but mooning himself—apricating himself in the occasional moonbeams.

As I wallowed in the novel pleasure of this word, it occurred to me that I’d seen it before. I didn’t remember where or when, but it has the lustre of a half-memory. A search on the Guardian website revealed another article dated February 2019, explaining the same word. That would be when I first read it, inwardly noted it, then promptly forgot it.

Apricating this afternoon in my front garden reminded me that it’s a precarious activity; you could sit in a tee shirt, reading your book, then a blast of breeze hits the back of your neck and you reach for a padded jacket and put the hood up. Then feel too hot when the breeze drops and the sunshine beats back in.

It sounds like it’s related to the word April – the best month for apricity – but it isn’t. One popular theory is that ‘April’ derives from the Latin aperire, ‘to open’, as it’s said to be the month when the earth opens to produce new fruit (according to etymologist W.W. Skeat). But this is folk etymology, says Anatoly Liberman in his entertaining and erudite OUP language blog (link HERE). He’s also sceptical about the other explanation: that it’s from Etruscan Apru (Greek Aphro – “Aphrodite”). Though I rather like to think of April as the month of Venus.

Btw, Liberman has a fascinating trawl through the origins of another apr- word, ‘apricot’, in a follow-up blogpost HERE.

Anyway, apricity is an apt term at this time of year in southwest England: spring is well under way, as my recent posts have illustrated (blossom, buds, opening fruits).

St Austell bay bluebellsOn Friday we went for a walk on the south coast. Bluebells were coming into flower (not very clear in my picture, I’m afraid), and it was a fine day for apricating: the air was chilly, but when we sheltered from the breeze there was a delicious warmth from the spring sun. We regretted not taking a picnic.

Over the weekend we reverted to one of our regular local walks. I’ve posted pictures of these horses before.Horses On this occasion they looked less mournful than usual, but they still have an air of melancholy – like they know something bad is about to happen that we’re unaware of.

The little statue of the perky hare at the top of this post is the nearest I’ve got for years to seeing the real thing. Not as big or scary as that giant rabbit that’s apparently been kidnapped in England this week.

CelandinesI wanted to try and capture in my pictures the effect of that spring sunshine on the scenery; these celandines (I think that’s what they are) and the foliage around them were gleaming in the light as if varnished.

I’ve made several batches of wild garlic pesto this spring, gathered from riverside woodlands nearby.  I’ve also stir-fried it in spring greens – delicious. This patch grows beside the lane we walk along, just before the horses’ field.

Wild garlic

 

 

 

 

 

 

More spring signs #BlossomWatch

A digression from the usual literary stuff again today; a word of the month is forthcoming, along with some more posts on books.

Over the last couple of weeks Mrs TD and I have taken advantage of the relaxation of lockdown restrictions to go further afield for our daily walks. Last week the weather was Portscatho bayfine but cold (that’ll be the word of the month, coming up next) and we took a picnic breakfast (and new coffee flask) to the south coast.

The cloud was just beginning to burn off as we arrived at Portscatho bay. We’d got there early, anticipating a crowd, but we were only the second car there. No doubt the numbers will increase when people from upcountry start to staycation down here in Cornwall.

Blackthorn bushesWe took the coastal path east along the clifftop. The blackthorn was in full bloom. At times it formed a sort of tunnel that we passed through – like a bridal couple heading for the church!

The blackthorn seems to be exceptionally wonderful this spring. Maybe I’ve just not looked closely enough at it in the past. From a Blackthorn blossom closeupdistance it looks nothing special, but looked at close up it’s glorious.

More recently we’ve mostly walked in the country lanes around where we live. It’s strange and a little upsetting to see the same signs of new spring growth that we noticed so vividly this time last year, during the first pandemic lockdown in England.

It’s heartening to see these fresh shoots and buds of new life; but also a little disheartening to find ourselves still in this precarious position over a year on from its inception. I believe these attractive catkins are willow:Catkins

 

Beach breakfast

Breakfast on the beach

A second year of lockdown walks

It’s the first of April, and spring is in the air: blackthorn, fruit-tree and other blossom and leaf-buds are bursting out everywhere, daffodils are thriving, and our first tulips opened in the warm sunshine yesterday. The national mood is still sombre and resigned to restrictions, but there’s hope with the successful vaccine delivery, and the heart-warming sight of nature reviving with the warmer weather.

I looked back at my April posts last year, when we were in the first weeks of the first UK lockdown, and I started to post pictures of the sights I encountered on local walks – especially the wild flowers, blossom, gateposts and holy wells – so there will be more of that as the anniversary of that time arrives.

Prunus blossomLast week we went to the local National Trust gardens, newly opened, and near enough to count as ‘local’. A lovely prunus was outdoing the beauty of the showy magnolias around it. ‘Oh,’ said a lady admiring it, and reading the label on the trunk: ‘It’s a prune tree.’

Magnolia bloomThe warm, late-March weather had encouraged the bees to explore what seemed to be every flower in the tree. I hope you can see the one in this next picture: it had stuck its head right inside the flower.

Prunus and bee

Late last week my walks were shorter; I’d injured tendons in my hip. So I revisited the path across the valley opposite our house.

This follows the river along the bottom of the valley. Two splendid horses graze in the third field. They are obviously used to the many people who pass by – they didn’t even pause to watch as I walked by.

Early this week, in the hedgerow of a lane I often walk along, I saw the first bluebell of the spring.

Bluebell

I think this is an English bluebell – the flowers seem to be clustered all round the stem

Next time, more blossom and a holy well. I’m also thinking about my next book post – on a Rose Tremain novel that I enjoyed very much, after a few depressing reads.

Horses

Words and #BlossomWatch

I posted last time on some words that were new to me – I liked their sound as well as their meanings. Here are some more that I came across recently.

Mrs TD drew my attention to this one: bloviate. It was used in a column by Raphael Behr on the Guardian newspaper website, in a piece about his heart attack and subsequent recovery. He referred to Boris Johnson’s first performance (he does like to play to the gallery) in prime minister’s question time after his election win in late 2019: Johnson was ‘basking in his majority, and was relieved to discover that his bloviation didn’t interfere with my breathing’.

To bloviate is to talk at length, especially in an inflated or empty way. Perfect for characterising our illustrious leader’s rhetorical style.

Last year I was working on a project for a health service institution. Part of my background reading turned up the expression nosocomial infectionsIt means those acquired while a patient is in hospital (or other place of treatment). Derived from the Greek nosos – disease, sickness, and komein – to take care of, attend to, it seems first to have been used in English in the mid-19C. Apparently ‘nosocome’ was a 17C word for ‘hospital’.

Not surprising that the word is starting to appear more frequently in the media in these days of Covid infection and transmission.

Some dictionaries give a related, equally prickly and polysyllabic term: iatrogenic infections. These are acquired after medical or surgical management, whether or not the patient was hospitalised. Not a semantic distinction most of us are called upon to make, fortunately. It’s from the Greek iatros – physician, and the element gen – producing, creating. It’s where the word ‘geriatric’ also comes from.

Blossom treeAnother lovely sunny day today. I walked to a local park to find the blossom tree Mrs TD discovered earlier this week. She took this picture. The Japanese have the lovely word hanami for the practice of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers, especially the gorgeous spring displays of cherry and plum blossom.

Magnolias are just beginning to flower, too.

The insolent squirrels have been searching our flower beds for crocuses, but have been less successful this year.

Some words and creeks

I’ve just finished a book of short stories by Elizabeth Jane Howard; some of them were quite nasty. I need to think about them some more before posting on them.

So another of my occasional asides into language today. I’ve been collecting words for as long as I can remember; I like to note down new ones (to me), or others that I just like. Here’s one I came across in a nature column in The Times recently: petrichor. It’s funny isn’t it how a word you were unfamiliar with seems to keep popping up once you’ve clocked it. It was used soon afterwards on a not particularly memorable Netflix programme, ‘The Wilds’. It was a sort of Lord of the Flies/’Lost’ mashup with teenage girls on an island. One, a studious type, used petrichor in a flashback scene of a family game of Scrabble.

It means the pungent smell of earth after it’s made damp by rain. From Greek petros, rock, and ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in mythology.

One word leads to another. My online dictionary pointed me to related words: argillaceous: of, or containing, clay (Latin argilla; Greek argos, white).

The word minaudière appeared in an auctioneer’s ad in our local paper last month. It was an item that featured in a recent sale. According to Wikipedia the word was a French term for a coquettish woman or flirt, from the verb “minauder” (to flirt or simper – so not very politically correct. I rather like that word “simper” btw).  It’s a (luxury) women’s fashion accessory, a kind of decorative or jewelled evening bag with cases or compartments for cosmetics or other small items. It was first used in the 1930s and attributed to Charles Arpels of Van Cleef & Arpels. Minaudières were usually metal plated, oblong, sometimes made of gold or silver, lacquered or covered in stones or mother-of-pearl. Some were fabric – brocade, silk. Some had a lanyard or chain to place over the wrist.

A linked article describes an étui: a woman’s ornamental case, usually carried in the pocket or purse, for holding small items like folding scissors, hairpins, bodkins (another fine word), etc. The word derives from the French for prison – a place for being shut up or confined. They were usually another expensive accessory and made of ivory, precious metal, tortoiseshell, or…shagreen. But I’ll not go down that linguistic rabbit-hole.

I went for my first bike ride in months today. It was a beautiful day: crisp but clear, with mostly blue skies and plenty of sunshine. I’ll end with some pictures of another tidal creek, not far from the ones I posted last time. Even when the tide is low and there’s lots of mud on show, it’s still a lovely sight. Curlews call and add to the sense of tranquillity.

Malpas creek confluence

The same creek at its confluence with another river. Didn’t have my glasses on, so these are a bit blurred, I’m afraid

Anemones

Here’s a gratuitous picture of some anemones that have just flowered in a pot by my front door

More lockdown rambles

I won’t comment on last week’s events in Washington DC, or the subsequent craven behaviour by those who supported them. Neither shall I mention the worsening Covid crisis here in the UK. We’re now in our third lockdown as cases surge alarmingly.

All we can do, me and Mrs TD, is to go for our daily country walks, tune in to nature, and get through each day. I have managed to read most of Elizabeth Taylor’s early novel A View from the Harbour, so should be posting on that soon.

Meadows in shadow at noon

Meadows in shadow at noon

The weather finally brightened last week: cold and frosty, but this was because of the clear sky overnight. Daytime was therefore crisp, sunny and beautiful. Even though the sun barely struggled above the horizon at noon. Long shadows were cast by the trees at the edge of this local meadow.

That was at the end of the walk that day. Earlier I looked over the hedge beside the lane I walked along, Sunny scene with birdtowards the north and the wind turbines by the A30 – the main road linking Cornwall with the rest of the country, just beyond the horizon in this shot.

The turbines are barely visible in my picture – but a passing crow managed to photo-bomb it.

A little further along from this scene the lane turns sharply left and drops down into the deep Kenwyn river valley. Here are a couple of pictures of this downward-sloping lane, the first taken (and posted here) last May, the second from my walk last week:

Lane with cowparsleyCountry lane, winter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earlier this week, as we walked down another local lane, we spotted our first wild daffodils (I included a picture of some cultivated ones at Epiphany House in my post a week or so back) atop a hedgerow.  Early daffodils

 

This week has been warmer – no frost – but very murky, with a misty rain rippling across the countryside.

Here’s a glimpse of the contrast with last week’s conditions: Misty rain

 

 

 

Mrs TD went for her walk today alone as I wanted to write this post. As I was drafting it, she texted me this picture below. I’ve featured these local peacocks several times since the rural rambles became so regular during the Covid restrictions.

This is the first time they’ve been seen together as a group of three. She said there was a fourth one standing ostentatiously on top of his favourite shed roof.

We haven’t heard them screeching, though, since the summer. We’ve spotted the occasional one in recent weeks, moping about this area, all alone, but resolutely silent. Why don’t they screech in winter? Are they sulking?