Documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say!

Wednesday, 15 June 2016


Cover of book - Happy Home Outside by Charlotte Hedeman Guéniau
I've only ever kept one book beside my bed before and that was a prayer book. When life got tough I would read the psalms. They are rare, those places and books one can go to knowing someone else understands the trauma life can bring, the despair, the loneliness . . . and can express is so well one can experience solidarity down the millennia.

So . . . that I keep one of the books sent for review beside my bed may seem horribly trivial in comparison. But I do now keep this book beside my bed - because it makes me laugh. And being made to laugh, to be truly happy, is as important as to be 'understood' or to appreciate poetry. (And the psalms are mega-poetry.)

It's . . . oh, this is so embarrassing given the build-up . . . the book is  'Happy Home Outside - Everyday Magic for Outdoor Life' by Charlotte Hedeman Guéniau - but it's so desperately funny that if ever I feel a little 'down' I pick it up and laugh. And it's even more astonishing than that. When worries seem overwhelming (and, sometimes, they do) - I pick it up then too - and laugh. It hasn't failed me yet. I go to favourite pages - and laugh. And I drive friends up the wall by opening it randomly and reading out whatever is there so they can laugh too.

It's a kind of Blue Peter for the wealthy. It's for people who have family, friends or servants (?!) who will carry furniture and carpets from the house, place them in the garden and bring them back in again later. It's for people who just happen to have brightly coloured poles lying around the place so they can make wigwams - upon which they can hang cheerful little rucksacks (pp158-9). Or easy access to pallets to turn into swings (p.102). And big gardens where summer houses can be knocked up and filled with cushions. And houses big enough to project films on . . . and friends who just happen to be expert enough to set up sound systems for your outside cinema (p.155).

Photo of chair and cushion from the book  'Happy Home Outside by Charlotte Hedeman Guéniau'
And cushions. Cushions everywhere! Which is the nub of it really. For what this boils down to is, in effect, an extended advert for 'Rice' - a chain of shops which sells cushions. So cushions abound. Great piles of them . . . 

It's a dream world. The colours are fantastic - as are the ideas . . . Decorate your trees with shopping bags or lampshades . . . Fix spoons into your fly screens (p.23). Tape slogans like 'Yess!' to boxes and consider them to be uplifting thoughts (p.71). Have a pink hose (p31).

It's a world where everything is approached sideways. We are shown how to make curtains for camper-vans by hanging tea-towels on string. Fine. Charlotte's husband gave her a camping van for a wedding present. Well, that's the real issue isn't it? How to find someone who will fall into your arms and give you a camper-van.

And there's a spiritual side . . . Here's one of my favourite quotes.

"To be creative together is almost like meditating. When you focus on crafting you are together in a different way - Sometimes you chat and talk, other moments you enjoy silently."

So what does she suggest you do to reach this measure of companionable stillness? . . . Draw faces on conkers! My own face is breaking into the biggest grin possible while I tell you this. It's brilliant. Unfailing hilarity.

I am not mocking. Most certainly I am not. And I'm not joking about this book being beside my bed. I'm speaking the complete truth when I say it cheers me up and makes me smile. Indeed I'm sure this will have been the intention behind the book - simple and unadulterated fun. (Fun, that is, and buying cushions!) I expect some who buy it will recreate some of the ideas. Even I may be inspired to make tea in a pot on occasions, and carry it into the garden on a tray instead of bunging mugs in the general direction of friends and getting them to carry them out for themselves. Or I might risk pegging plastic mugs on wires to see what they make of it (p.148). But I doubt I'll 'make my heart sing' by putting on boxing gloves (p170) or waste much time painting croquet mallets pastel colours.

Somewhere around the house I have Kaffe Fasset's book 'Glorious Colour - Sources of Inspiration for Knitting and Needlepoint'; a book of wonderfully colourful objects all crammed in and arranged to take one's breath away. I don't know how many people have been inspired to churn out cushions and garments because of it - but I bet there are masses who've carried it home, gazed at its glories and treasured it regardless of their domestic or creative abilities.

I've looked through some other reviews of this one. Some take it as a serious selection of ideas to be followed through. Some think it a bit weak and rushed out - or a coffee table book or . . . But I think it's a right ole laugh and having a right ole laugh is so important to all of our health I say - go and buy it. I don't know how successful it's been as a publication. It's been out for several months and hasn't one review on the UK Amazon. But I like it.

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Happy Home Outside - Everyday Magic for Outdoor Life - published by Jaqui Small and sent me to review by Quarto Books.
The photo credits are to Skovdal&Skovdal. With books like this . .  (they are picture books really, aren't they?) those who take the pictures should be right up there on the front cover in BIG letters.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016


Dandelion head with no petals and most seeds gone
Dandelion seeds don't get enough attention.

This is significantly maddening.

For ages it was my laptop. Eventually, I bought a new one. Then, on 20th May, my camera stopped. It's away to be mended but in the meantime . . . no new photos.

However, some things, within a broad season, don't change and although I took this photo on the 17th May - other dandelions are in a similar phase.

At this point . . . there were more pictures . . . but I've taken them away. I like the dandelion. It can stand alone.

Friday, 27 May 2016


Large and twisted tree coming into leaf with thinner trees behind.
Sometimes I find I'm so familiar with the area I usually explore, I wish I were somewhere else! And, briefly, I was!

I went for another walk in the Quantocks - this time in a forest . . . or a wood . . . . ? I don't know what the difference is but this wood had a lot of trees in it (which is quite foresty) and I never came to the end of them (which is foresty too). But there was light drifting down through the branches (which is wood-ish) and it was 'magical' not 'frightening' . . . which heads it in the 'wood' direction because, in my mind, a forest has to be at least a little bit disconcerting.

The foot path followed a wide but shallow stream . . . and I followed the path . . . and here are some of the things I saw.

Two dilapidated bracket fungi (green and cream and drooping on trunk of tree.

Fungi. Yup. Lots of Fungi. Here are some on a . . . birch? Um. Are they Birch Polypore Piptoporus betulinus? Um . . . They were about seven inches across and there were more above them in a line up the trunk - spaced into little clumps like this one.

Black ball-shaped fungi on trunk of tree that's fallen across a stream

And little black balls on a dead tree that had fallen across the stream. (I don't know precisely what these kind are but they are similar (only larger) to the ones I came across in a Dorset Beech Wood.)

Pale green plates of (shield-like) lichen on treen.

And lichen? Yes. Lichen!

Silhouette of fern on branch of (sessile?) oak tree.

And ferns? Yes, lots of ferns. Plenty on the ground and some above our heads. Here's one on the branch of what I think is a Sessile Oak.

Herb Robert flower peeping through the leaves of Enchanter's Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana)

Flowers? Yes, there were oodles of flowers.

Here, where the trees are a little thinner and there's a tad more light - a Herb Robert Flower peeping through the leaves of Enchanter's Nightshade! (Which is also a gardener's nightmare.)

Wood sorrel flower peeping through fallen oak leaves, brambles, moss etc

And here's a little Wood-Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella).

See oak leaves and blackberry leaves too?

Wide, shallow stream beside bank of exposed tree roots with wooded hill beyond

And here's the stream.

Hand holding flat stone to show caddis fly cases lifted from shallow stream (in background).
And here are Caddis Fly larvae encased by the little pebbles they have each gathered round them for protection. You might like to enlarge this to see better. And have you noticed how clear the stream is?

And sheep? Yes. Since you ask there were sheep in a field on the other side of the stream at a point where it had taken a bit of a dip. So the field was up on a short bank - and there was a single strand of barbed wire around it.

Most of the sheep were quietly grazing, eyes down. But the ram in with them was running up and down bellowing, its huge fleece swaying dramatically as it leapt up onto a small promontory, roared and ran down again.  And for almost every bellow, a smaller call replied from our side of the stream - only high up so we couldn't see who was making it. On and on it went, bellow, cry, bellow, cry. Of course, as soon as I took out my camera, the ram ran down from the highest, most dramatic part of the view, back into the main body of the field. And the moment I began to film . . .  it ran behind a tree. So here is a video of a ram behind a tree bellowing . . . but listen. Bellow, cry. Below cry. (Then I'll tell you what happened next.)

Well . . . as you see, the ram was heading down to the other end of the field. We followed . . . and round a bend . . . there, waiting for him on the path, were the ewe and the lamb he'd been drawing down from the hill. So out he came from the field - under the barbed wire, along a little beach and over a ford in the stream, went right up to them, greeted them; then turned and started to lead them so he could show them the best place to cross the stream.

But when the ewe and lamb reached the water they hesitated and stopped. It was only a short distance so he was already scrambling up the bank towards the barbed wire but as soon as he realised they'd lost their nerve, he returned to them and encouraged them to get their feet wet. And across they went. And once he could see they really were fording the stream, he walked on a little to wait. And once they'd caught up, he led them under the wire and back into the field - where all of a sudden it was perfectly quiet and peaceful and everyone went back to eating grass.

(You might also like simply to listen to the video without watching. You will hear more that way.)

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Places to go for more information

Caddis Fly  - on the Wildlife Trusts site.
Caddis Fly Larvae  (not for the squeamish) in the Life in Freshwater section section of the Field Studies Council site. 

IDs with the help of iSpot.