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    Mudlark @replies


    ‘Until it’s done’ is an alternative and perfectly sound approach, but for the novice it does tend to entail hovering over the pan on the hob or checking the oven every five minutes when you could be doing something more productive or entertaining 🙂

    Mudlark @replies


    The phrase ‘easy as boiling an egg’ is completely misleading, because it isn’t by any means the easiest task for a cook.  If you truly desire guidance I can, being of grandmotherly age if not technically a grandmother, provide some. Otherwise ignore the following.

    To start with, it depends on the freshness of the egg, although if you get them from the supermarket it can be assumed that they are more than four days old so that isn’t really a factor. If you get them straight from the hen, they may require longer to cook. The size of the eggs has also to be taken into consideration; large eggs need slightly longer than small ones.

    For soft boiled eggs the eggs should be at room temperature to start with*, not straight from the fridge, otherwise the shells are liable to crack. The water should be simmering rather than boiling, with just a few bubbles erupting on the surface, and the eggs should be lowered in gently. After a minute or so you can take the pan off the heat and allow to stand for four to six minutes depending on size, at which point the egg whites should be set. If this isn’t the case, trial and error should sort it. Alternatively you can leave to simmer for three minutes, although this is a bit more hit-and-miss.

    For hard boiled eggs start them (also from room temperature) in cold water, bring to simmering point and then give them 7 minutes if small and 9 minutes if large. They should then be cooled immediately under cold running water to prevent them overcooking.

    If the shells persist in cracking despite all precautions you could try carefully piercing the big end with a needle, which will reduce internal pressure under heat.

    * In UK terms that means around 18 C – 25 C; terms and conditions may vary.

    Mudlark @replies


    Very belated congratulations, Thane, on surviving school and graduating!  May you succeed and be happy in whatever path you choose to take from now on (provided it’s reasonably legal, of course 😉

    As for cookery, if you start with a basic and reliable cookery book and bear in mind that it’s basically just chemistry plus the patience to follow a recipe  and a modicum of common sense* it isn’t all that difficult a skill to acquire. After that it helps to have an idea of what flavours go together, but that is to some extent a matter of personal taste. When it comes to basic cookery books, your mother would no doubt agree that you can’t go wrong with Delia Smith, especially her Cookery Course.

    * For example; a flat mate of mine at university, following a recipe in one of my cookery books to the letter and not using her knowledge of first principles, failed to spot a misprint and used a tablespoonful of flour instead of a teaspoonful to thicken the gravy in a casserole, then wondered why the result was meat and vegetables embedded in gluey wallpaper paste.

    Mudlark @replies


    Avert your eyes now, there be spoilers ahead.

    @thane16  @pedant

    Fair enough, although I did in fact realise that it was a riff on the Hammer Horror Dracula – and possibly on vampires of more recent literature; my point was that I found  it so jarring that the satire didn’t work and any subtler intention was lost. Put it down to prejudice on my part if you wish.

    As for Spike, notwithstanding the cheekbones* he didn’t strike me as ‘romantic’ in the least, either in intention or in fact. Pre vampire William is a sorry specimen whose pretensions are risible and belied by the samples of his ‘poetry’ which we witness – scarcely qualifying as a poetaster, let alone a poet. As a vampire he is thoroughly nasty but interesting because of his complexity and the conflicting sparks of humanity which survive within his soullessness.

    Encouraged by your encomia, pedant, and at puro/syzygy the elder’s prompting, I finally got round to watching Buffy early last year,and the fact that over a period of three months I watched every single episode, some of them twice, speaks for itself. Previously I had ignored the show because the setting and basic premises seemed to embody elements to which I was generally allergic by temperament and acquired taste. Binge watching in that way – or as near to binge watching as I ever get – is probably not ideal anyway because it allows too little time for digestion and reflection, so forgive me if the subtler points sometimes escaped me.

    * Even as a teenager I don’t recall ever being so impressionable as to fall for that kind of thing, and certainly not now that I have grown old and cynical.

    Mudlark @replies


    As @bluesqueakpip  says, that looks distinctly promising, not least because it clearly isn’t going to glamorise or romanticise the vampire.

    I disliked the episode of Buffy which featured Dracula precisely because, despite one or two nods to Bram Stoker’s novel, it depicted him as a youthful looking and magnetic, even attractive figure, not at all like Stoker’s character in whose presence Harker feels an instinctive repulsion. In the novel Dracula is described as tall, thin and elderly in appearance, with abnormally pale skin, a thick white moustache, bushy eyebrows which almost meet over his nose, bushy hair receding at the temples, hair on the palms of his hands and halitosis.

    On the other hand there is the vampire in Prachett’s Witches Abroad which, in its bat form, has a fatal encounter with Nanny Ogg’s battle scarred tom cat, Greebo.  ‘Vampires have risen from the dead, from the grave and from the crypt, but have never managed it from the cat’. Which is reassuring.

    Mudlark @replies

    @thane16  @janetteb

    After writing the above, and on reflection, I had feared that the reaction would be ‘too much information’ or ‘teach your grandmother’; so I’m gratified if it was of the least use.

    Janette: when it comes to what to put in the compost bin the rule is; no meat or dairy products and no cooked foods – although I think left-over steamed veggies (if you can think of no other use for them) are probably exempt from the latter category. On the rare occasions I have any left-over bread which isn’t actually mouldy (bearing in mind that I bake my own and it keeps pretty well for at least five days) either it is crumbled and fed to the garden birds or dried in the oven at a low temperature and then crushed to make bread crumbs and stored in an airtight jar for later use such as sprinkling on gratin dishes or coating croquettes etc.  If it is mouldy it goes in the household waste food bin to be put out for collection by the local council*.

    Puro: I oversimplified the role of earthworms somewhat, because there are several different species which occupy different ecological niches.  Those which directly process decaying vegetation and are thus helpful in compost making are the various varieties of tiger worm (eisenia)  and also the somewhat larger lumbricus rubellus, both of which I think are to be found on all the continents of the world (except Antarctica). Tiger worms are relatively small and thin and generally red or brownish-purple in colour, and are the ones supplied with wormeries. They are also the ones which turn up in my compost.  Obviously, there are two preconditions if they are to arrive spontaneously in a compost bin: a) there need to be some already in the vicinity, and b) the base of the compost bin has to be in direct contact with the soil surface. Otherwise you would need to order some to kick-start a population.

    The older and more basic compost bins in the utility corner of my garden look somewhat like Daleks, minus the bumps and with a domed lid instead of the rotating top part with the eye-stalk, sink plunger and weaponry, and they stand directly on the soil surface, so the arrival of the worms in their contents is no mystery. The ones in the new roller-ball composter could have crawled over the base and in through the holes in the drum, but it’s also possible they arrived as cocoons in stuff transferred from a Dalek, because over the winter, while the compost in the rotating drum is maturing, I put all the kitchen waste etc in one of the latter. Then, in late spring, I transfer the made compost into another, empty Dalek for storage until needed, and the stuff accumulated over the winter forms the first instalment of the new batch in the drum.

    Most of the other kinds of earthworms found in garden soil feed chiefly on fungi growing on decayed vegetable matter rather than on the vegetable matter itself so it is a two stage process, with the fungi having the primary role in breaking down the humus; but some types of worm actually drag dead leaves and stems lying on the surface down into the soil. When the large and very bushy Japanese Maple in the middle of my lawn sheds its leaves I use them to mulch the surface of the adjoining herbaceous border. The leaves lie there over the winter, but by late spring they have all disappeared, dragged down into the depths by those industrious little helpers.

    As for my gardening activities at the moment, I’m suffering acute frustration. October in this region can usually be relied upon to provide a fair number of calm days with hazy sunshine – ideal weather for preparing the garden for its winter sleep. Instead we have had day after day of wind and rain, and the occasional dry day has generally been heavily overcast with quite strong winds (all possibly the tail ends of a succession of hurricanes and tropical storms which have been funnelling northwards up the Atlantic). My garden is fairly sheltered by surrounding trees, but even so conditions have not been inviting.


    * Norwich is very keen on recycling, and not just plastics, metal cans and paper. They also collect garden waste, which is useful when it comes to things like prunings and hedge clippings which aren’t suitable for the home compost bin and which are shredded and composted in industrial quantities for use in municipal parks and gardens or for resale.





    Mudlark @replies


    So very sorry to learn of your recent painful losses. When the death of a beloved relative is followed so closely by that of a much loved pet I can well understand how much the latter serves to compound the grief and make the process of adjustment all the more difficult. It is good to know that you have the support of family and friends so close to hand.

    My sympathy and a virtual hug


    Mudlark @replies


    OK, here I am in the pub with a pint (actually a glass of merlot) to hand.  So where were we? Ah, yes, compost and soil health.

    The basic principle is; you have to put back into the soil what you take out of it or it loses its fertility, and if you are not to spend a small fortune on buying manure and/or chemical fertilizer it pays to have a compost bin or two to process garden waste and household vegetable waste.

    Healthy soil contains lots of humus from decaying vegetable matter, worms to aerate the soil and process the vegetable matter through their efficient little digestive systems, and myriad bacteria and other micro-organisms to fix nitrogen and otherwise work their biochemical magic. Anything you grow will take out the nutrients, both for the plants and the supportive micro-organisms, so the more you feed the soil the more you will get out of it.  Medieval farmers used to leave part of the arable land fallow in alternate years between crops and graze their animals on the fallow land so that the dung would fertilize it. Later farmers cut out the fallow bit and spread the ploughland with manure from their farmyard middens, and later still they established scientifically the benefits of crop rotation and using leguminous crops to fix nitrogen in the soil. Then they discovered chemical fertilizers which worked wonders, except that these didn’t replenish the humus and the micro-organisms in the soil so that, except on ‘organic’ farms which still employ traditional mixed farming methods, farmland soil is now effectively inert and infertile if not dosed with yet more chemical fertilizer, the surplus of which drains off into rivers and the water table with all sorts of knock on consequences.

    Which may not seem to have much to do with gardening, but the same principles apply.

    Wormeries, which come supplied with the necessary worms, are an efficient way of processing kitchen vegetable waste and as an end product produce a fine organic compost and a liquid which, diluted in a ratio of about 1:10 is a good liquid fertilizer. Compost bins are, in my opinion, better all round. In them you can put not just vegetable waste from the kitchen*, but all waste from the garden, including annual weeds and the leaves (but not the roots) of perennial weeds, annuals from the flower beds once they have finished flowering, the chopped back remnants of  end-of-season perennials, fallen leaves and grass clippings – although grass clippings have to be thoroughly mixed with other material or you end up with a slimy, evil-smelling mat.  Ideally the mix should include a balance of green material which is high in nitrogen, and dry material which contains more carbon – and that can include shredded paper and cardboard.  For best results the mixture should be forked over periodically to mix everything evenly and aerate it, and since that is a labour intensive chore there are compost bins which can be rotated on an axle or by other means. There are also compost accelerators which you can buy to add to the compost and help speed the process, but they are not essential.

    I have a state-of-the-art composter which consists of an almost spherical drum mounted on rollers on a dished, hollow base, and every time I add anything I rotate it two or three times to keep the contents well mixed. In the base of the drum there are holes through which any liquid drains into the hollow base, and this year I tapped about seven litres which, diluted, I can use as additional fertilizer. I have never needed to buy a supply of worms because they arrive in the compost bins all by themselves, bless them!

    Ideally I could do with two of these rotary composters, one to contain the maturing compost and one the compost-in-the-making, but since I don’t have room for two I have a couple of conventional bins as well.

    And here endeth the oracular utterance of Mudlark the gardener, take it as you may 😉

    *Kitchen waste can include anything of vegetable or fruit origin, including tea leaves and coffee grounds, although I would advise ripping open tea bags and discarding the ‘bags’ unless you want your garden to be littered with little grey rags. The bags containing the tea do not compost efficiently. I now use leaf tea in a tea pot with an infuser basket, so I no longer have that problem.  Crushed egg shells are a good addition, but definitely no meat products or bread, or the compost will stink and you will attract vermin.


    Mudlark @replies


    The YouTube 50th anniversary collection doesn’t include any of the three specials in question. It is a compilation featuring the seven Doctors of the original series 1963-1989 plus the 8th Doctor, Paul McGann who appeared  in the 1996 film aka ‘the film we do not mention’ because it was so dire – although Paul McGann was potentially an excellent incarnation of the Doctor and subsequently featured in many audio episodes.

    The sequence is: Name of the Doctor, Night of the Doctor, Day of the Doctor and Time of the Doctor, after which follows the 8th series of the after gap (AG) sequence. Night of the Doctor is, as @pedant said, a mini-episode available only on line. It isn’t essential viewing. but it does bridge the gap between the film we do not mention, The Day of the Doctor and the first episode of the revived show in 2005, and establishes that the film, however unsatisfactory, is canon.  The fact that the Day of the Doctor is a special in the 7th series but chronologically precedes the first series AG is only confusing if you overlook the fact that this is a show featuring time travel.

    As for how to access Day and Time of the Doctor, I think that they are still available on Netflix, though I haven’t checked, but if you can’t access them there then I suggest that your best bet other than ** would be to look for the DVDs, either to purchase or to borrow.

    Mudlark @replies


    The answer to you first question is yes, you do need to view the specials in order before you embark on Series 8, otherwise you might get a bit of a shock.

    Mudlark @replies


    Lady Hale is a judge and President of the Supreme Court of the UK.  She is known for her collection of zoomorphic jewellery – chiefly insects and amphibians, and when she read out the unanimous ruling of the SC that Boris Johnson had acted unconstitutionally in proroguing Parliament for five weeks she was wearing a brooch in the form of a large spider.

    I did wonder how many outside the UK – or within it for that matter – would get the joke.  My brother (the one in France), who is usually quick on the uptake in these matters and whose sense of humour tends to be similar to mine surprised me by being unamused and sniffy . Apparently he has always been too cool for The Who which surprised me;  his taste in music always seemed pretty wide and eclectic.  Now he has joined a choir which sings mainly liturgical stuff and laments that he is a bass baritone and  tenors have all the fun 🙁

    I could bore on for hours on the subject of garden compost and wormeries, but that is probably a subject best discussed over a pint in the pub.

    Mudlark @replies


    Welcome to the Forum.

    There are only 13 episodes in season* 7, episode 13 being The Name of the Doctor. In addition to these  there are two specials for the same year; the 50th anniversary special ‘The Day of the Doctor’ which aired on 23rd November 2013, the anniversary of the day in 1963 on which the first ever episode of Doctor Who was broadcast, and the Christmas special, The Time of the Doctor.  The Day of the Doctor was also shown in cinemas in 3D, which was pretty spectacular.

    The 8th, 9th and 10th seasons each consist of 12 episodes plus Christmas specials, but there was a gap in 2016 when there was just the Christmas special, The Return of Dr Mysterio.  Season 11, the most recent, consists of 10 slightly longer episodes plus a New Year special, and the next season will be in 2020, which is a frustratingly long wait and the main reason why the Forum is fairly quiet at the moment.

    Hope that clears things up for you. Happy viewing of all that you have still to come!

    * In the UK we generally refer to each separate sequence of episodes as a ‘series’ rather than, as in the USA, a ‘season’ , but either term will be understood here 😉

    Mudlark @replies

    Lady Hale’s arachnid brooch seems to have attracted a good deal of attention, so this seems appropriate

    Mudlark @replies

    @thane16 (syzygy the elder)

    Apologies, but even after due and cautious reflection I feel an irresistible urge to indulge in a Mudlark nitpick:

    our funny, celery wearing, tennis clothed Doctor

    wore a cricketer’s outfit and even, if my memory is to be relied on, wielded a cricket bat occasionally. But perhaps it is insensitive of me to remind you of that fact, so soon after England snatched a near miraculous victory from the jaws of certain defeat in the second test of the Ashes series 😈


    Mudlark @replies

    @thane16  (syzygy the elder)

    Whatever made you think that I might be annoyed?  🙂


    Welcome from me, also.

    As @janetteb says, the Peter Cushing films were a spin-off from the original TV show, the first episode of which, featuring William Hartnell as the Doctor, was broadcast by the BBC on 23rd November 1963 – although the debut was somewhat overshadowed by events across the pond on the previous day.  I guess that you are unaware of the excellent BBC film drama  ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’ which is about the origins of the show, its inception, development and early years, and the people involved.  If you are interested, you can find it by clicking on ‘Forums’ at the top of the page, and then scrolling down to ‘First Doctor’.

    As pitched originally, Doctor Who was conceived as a show for children of around 12 years which would be both entertaining and to some extent educational, and in the early years it tended to alternate stories with a historical setting and those with a science/space travel/futuristic theme. As quickly became evident, it attracted an audience of a much wider age range and has always been seen as a family show. It really took off with the introduction of the Daleks.

    I agree with you that from today’s perspective the relatively few 1960s episodes which survive can seem slow, with quite a lot of ‘padding’ between the cliff-hangers, the production values were comparatively low and there was little in the way of what we would now think of as special effects. But speaking for myself and I think many others who were around then, that didn’t seem important at the time. The show was produced under very tight time constraints in a cramped studio, and on a budget that by comparison with the money available even then to commercial stations in the US was minuscule. On the other hand, at least in my opinion at the time and since, the delineation of the characters was much more subtle and the stories tended to be less formulaic than e.g. in the original series of Star Trek, and there was ample scope for the imagination.

    As you will have seen, things are relatively quiet here at the moment with no new episodes to discuss, but if you feel inclined to browse while we wait more or less impatiently, all discussions of previous episodes are archived under ‘forums’,



    Mudlark @replies

    @thane16  (syzygy the younger)

    In a moment of absent mindedness I attached the wrong tag to the above post, sorry!

    Mudlark @replies


    The argument that in the context of the times and society in the 10 century BCE David’s actions in arranging for Uriah’s death so that he could have Bathsheba to himself were excusable doesn’t hold a single drop of water as far as I can see, and I wonder at the moral judgement of anyone who imagines that it does or ever did.

    In addition to the question of morality and ethics, I doubt whether there has ever been a social group, whether clan, tribe, petty kingdom or nation, in which the deliberate killing or otherwise contriving the death of one member of that community by another has been officially sanctioned by law or custom, although there are obvious examples of grey areas where a sub-section of a community has been defined officially or unofficially as ‘other’ and the law has sometimes turned a blind eye.

    The biblical account makes it perfectly clear that David’s actions were considered not only wrong but a gross abuse of his power as king.  The prophet Nathan  tells him so quite bluntly, underlining the point with the parable of the rich man with who had large flocks and herds but chose to take the one and only lamb belonging to his poor neighbour to feed a guest rather than slaughter one of his own.  David was powerful among his own people, wealthy and had several wives already and he acted as if above the law and in the spirit of ‘because I can’. Remind you of anyone?

    This being the Old Testament, David’s actions are considered foremost as a sin and offence against God; ‘What David had done was wrong in the eyes of the Lord’  (2 Samuel 11:27), and Nathan warns him that God will punish him: his first son by Bathsheba will die, his wives will be openly unfaithful and his family ‘will never again have rest from the sword’.  The only ‘good’ outcome, if it can be considered such, is that his next son by Bathsheba was Solomon, but that hardly justifies the wrong and it isn’t presented in that light.

    Mudlark @replies


    Commiserations and sympathy over the health problems. My paternal grandmother and my father both suffered from hiatus hernia, so I know at least at second hand what a miserable condition it can be. Since then (1960s-70s) I gather that better drugs to reduce stomach acidity have been developed, and there are now things like Gaviscon to buffer acid reflux, so I hope that in the case of your OH it will be possible to better control the effects. My grandmother ate very little and seemed to subsist mainly on a diet of Complan and slops, which resulted in her having to have oesophageal dilation at regular intervals. Dad continued with a normal diet and didn’t, although it might have been better in the long run if he had stuck to blander food.

    As for the hip replacement, I’ve had both hips done in the past thirteen years and both are still functioning very well, so I hope that yours will prove similarly successful. The post-operative pain in my case was transitory and well controlled – on the last occasion, in fact, I ended up protesting that I didn’t really need all the stuff they were pumping into me – and the main thing after that is to keep exercising, even if it means gritting your teeth and getting on with it at first. Now I just wish that spine replacements were possible 🙁


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    I can understand some people might like to see it.

    I don’t think ‘like’ is the operative word. Drama as safe and ultimately reassuring entertainment has its place, but sometimes it is a means of confronting us directly with truths we might prefer not to confront, and it is then  that it can be most powerful. Chernobyl does exactly that and almost certainly better than any documentary might have done.

    Mudlark @replies

    @pedant @miapatrick @cathannabel @jimthefish

    I bought the DVD of Chernobyl on Monday afternoon, watched the five episodes over three evenings and am left stunned. Deftly and concisely constructed almost entirely from the point of view of those involved as it happened, with all the muddle, panic and ignorance, the struggle to cope in the face of official and bureaucratic unwillingness to acknowledge the facts, and the gradual disentangling of the sequence of events and the causes, it more than lived up to the accolades. The opening, with Vasily Legasov’s concluding message, ‘The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognise the truth at all’ was a punch to the gut. We may not be living under a totalitarian regime with an ideological agenda and an imposed version of what is acceptable reality, but that observation has an obvious and immediate relevance today.

    When it happened I was on an archaeological cruise, on a boat in the Aegean, and the only source of news was a radio news broadcast in the mornings. We weren’t under the radioactive plume as far as our information went, but as far as that information went I knew it was extremely serious and was surprised at how unworried my fellow passengers seemed to be. Even so, it is only after watching this that I realise how near to total catastrophe the disaster came.

    Mudlark @replies

    @whisht  @blenkinsopthebrave  @winston  @pedant @thane16

    Sadly I didn’t see the first moon landing live, although I was well aware it was happening. At the time I was working as a supervisor on a large excavation in southern England. The hours were long, the work demanding – not to mention the after-work social life – and I simply didn’t have the stamina to stay awake for something which was happening in the early hours of the morning British Summer Time. Normally we had no access to a TV during the 12 week+ digging season, but a few of the American volunteer diggers had managed to scrounge a set from somewhere and did stay up all night. When at around 7 am I staggered in bleary eyed for breakfast in our dig HQ (a small disused chocolate factory) I did stop in passing to watch the ghosting footage of Armstrong bounding slo-mo over the lunar surface.  It has been interesting to watch the various BBC programmes commemorating the anniversary, though from my perspective it doesn’t seem like 50 years. Where did they go?

    What for me had greater initial impact was the broadcast of the first lunar orbit by Apollo 8, and on Christmas Day 1968 of taking a break from the kitchen and preparation of a late Christmas lunch to watch in wonder our first sight of the lunar landscape unreeling below the orbiter while the astronauts read from the beginning of Genesis and wishing us a Happy Christmas.

    Mudlark @replies


    Oh you are just showing off now

    And the list wasn’t even complete 🙂

    Sorry to hear about the fainting episode, and commiserations. It’s a horrible feeling just before you black out and, as you say, very embarrassing when it happens in public. At one time I had quite a history of that kind of thing (low blood pressure) but not so much now, although it can be a near thing if I neglect meals and become hypoglycaemic. Breakfast is Important!

    As for my back, I’m afraid that is a constant, not something that comes and goes. An MRI scan several years ago revealed that my lumbar spine is a wreck and osteoarthritis doesn’t get any better; one just has to hope that it doesn’t get any worse. On a good day and wearing a back brace I can sometimes manage up to three hours in the garden, but I’m grateful that I seem to have a fairly high pain threshold.  As for working in the heat, I like it on the whole. In the summer of 1995 I double dug what was to become a large herbaceous border in temperatures of around 35C and was barely even aware of sweating until I came in to change my clothes and discovered that the waistband of my jeans was encrusted with salt from my evaporated perspiration!

    Reverting to Horace

    is he really being a bit snarky about how his poetics are adored by his patron Maecenas

    More than a bit, I should say. The whole thing appears knowingly (wink, wink) OTT.  Consider the opening couplet of the Ode in question:

    Maecenas atavis edite regibus                                                                                                                                                           O et praesidium et dulce decus meum

    As Disraeli observed in connection with his dealings with Queen Victoria: ‘Everyone likes flattery; and when you come to Royalty you should lay it on with a trowel’, and the same applied, no doubt, to wealthy patrons in the Roman world.  It certainly worked for Disraeli.

    Furthermore, if you consider the precise wording of the last line of the Ode without trying, as I did, to translate it into something which sounds vaguely poetic in English, there is a suspicion that Horace’s tongue may have been firmly in his cheek. The verb he chose was ferio which, in the literal English translation conjures the bathetic image of someone knocking their head on a low beam or door lintel, and who is to say that this is not what was intended for the contemporary readers and audience.  Presumably Maecenas was amused, even if not fooled.

    As for the shortcomings of modern schools and teachers, I’m not really qualified to comment, except that anecdotal evidence, including yours, suggests a contrast with what used to be. My contemporaries and I in England – at least those of us fortunate to qualify for a grammar school secondary education – had the benefit of teachers who for the most part were well qualified in the subjects they taught, even if they were not always particularly good at teaching, and the emphasis, at least in the final two years at my school, was on prodding us into think for ourselves, even if – especially if – it was counter to what our teachers had said in class. I can understand why Latin, as a language, is no longer taught in most schools, although it has merits as a discipline and I certainly learned a lot from it about the structure of languages in general, but I think a very basic grounding in Latin grammar and vocabulary might still be useful even now, if only to point out the Latin and Greek origin of many words in the English vocabulary – and incidentally prevent the ubiquitous misspelling of such words. Says the pedant  👿

    A third re-watch of Buffy? You converted me to Buffy and I binge watched it all, once, but I can’t even find time to keep up with all I want to on contemporary TV. Maybe it’s because I spend too much time reading novels – SF and other genres. And Willow is *not* a good example to follow – no benefit in being ‘professional’ if you are on the wrong path.

    Mudlark @replies


    Very sad news. I remember him chiefly in Blake’s 7 in which the sardonic and amoral Avon was my favourite character by far. Anti-heroes for me, every time, and he played the part so well.

    Mudlark @replies


    Sublimi vertice are in the ablative singular masculine

    You are, of course, correct; very sloppy of me. I think that initially it did register subliminally that sublimi couldn’t relate to sidera,  but I must have been thinking more about the sense and not paying full attention to the grammar. Anyway, I told you my Latin was very rusty.

    Since sublimis also means exalted, I suppose a more accurate rendering would be: the crown of my head, exalted, touches the stars.

    The birds were certainly tweeting – mainly robins as far as I could tell. The blackbirds are often vocal, as are the blue tits and great tits and the occasional garden warbler, but I imagine by this time most of them are knackered keeping their growing families fed.  The narcissi are long over and all that is left of them is some limp and tatty foliage dying back. The bluebells are just about over, too, as are the peonies and forget-me-nots, weigela, camelia and choisya. Currently in flower are roses, iris, clematis, geraniums (by which I don’t mean pelargoniums), salvias, aquilegias and foxgloves plus, in the shrubbery, a rhododendron, an azalea and a viburnum.

    I managed two hours in the garden and got most of what I intended to do done before my back insisted I stop, but I’m forever behind and still attending to jobs which should have been done weeks ago. I yearn for the days when I could manage a whole day of heavy duty gardening without breaking a sweat, but the march of time is relentless and the years spent crouching in damp holes in all weathers have taken their toll.  Now I am resting with a refreshing gin and tonic before I have to rouse myself to prepare dinner.

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    @thane16  Syzygy

    The above post is addressed to you, but I’m not risking an edit to rectify my having messed up the @

    Mudlark @replies

    This site seems to have taken a dislike to me 🙁   That’s the third time in a row that it has messed up my post with code and then cast into oblivion when I tried to edit it.

    @thane 16

    lofty stars will move my way”  is either a translation so free as to significantly alter the sense – which is that Maecenas approval of him as a lyric poet will carry him to the utmost heights, or more probably a mistranslation.

    I suspect that the translator confused ferio (knock, strike against) with fero  (bear, carry, bring); took sublimi sidera (the lofty stars)to be the subject of the clause and either ignored vertice (with the crown of [my] head) or somehow took it to mean ‘my way’.  <i>Feriam</i> (I will/would knock) the verb, is in the first person singular and conjuctive, since it is dependent on the first clause ‘Quod si …. inseres‘ .  Sublimi sidera, adjective and noun are in the accusative case, therefore the objects that are being struck, and vertice (noun, ablative), is what they are being struck with.

    I twisted the clause round to make the stars the subject because the literal translation seemed somewhat clunky and unpoetic in English.

    As I said, I’m no authority on Horace or on Greek and Latin poetic metre, but I gather that he did deliberately adopt the metre of Alacaeus and Sappho in the Odes, and if I have understood the matter correctly, this poem is indeed an example of this.

    Now the garden is calling insistently, so even if this post emerges covered in code, it will have to stay that way

    Mudlark @replies

    *Sigh*  Another post lost to the ether. Try again.


    But spade and palm could be considered similar? Under Callimachus’ rules spade and palm are ‘open’ and an ‘offering’ -or so I thought…..

    Not so much in this case. <i>Pala</i>: a spade i.e. a long handled tool used for digging (or, according to my dictionary, the socket in a finger ring in which the stone is set, though I fail to see the connection at the moment); palma: either the palm of the hand or a palm tree/palm branch. In this case it is the latter: the palm branch awarded to the victor in a race, therefore a symbol of victory. I doubt somehow that a victorious charioteer would have appreciated being given a spade for his efforts.

    The dust (pulverum) referred to here, taken literally, is the dust kicked up by a chariot as it races round the Circus Maximus, but could indeed be seen also as a symbol of effort.

    The whole poem consists of 36 lines in all and ends:

    Quod si me lyricis vatibus inseres                                                                                                                                 Sublime feriam sidera vertice

    But if you place me among the lyric poets, the lofty stars will crown my head (lit. I will knock the lofty stars with the crown of my head).

    In this instance the last word of all, vertice  – with the crown of the head – is determined by the stress of the metre rather than its importance in the sentence, but the couplet as a whole is the point to which the whole poem has been building.

    @winston  – and Sygers

    To be more precise, syzygy is primarily an astronomical term, meaning conjunction, e.g. of the moon and sun or of two planetary bodies or moons, but by extension of a pair of correlated or connected things. From the Greek syzygos, meaning yoked or paired.

    OK, OK, I’ll shut up now and remove myself and my pedantry 🙂   The sun is shining, temperature is forecast to reach 27C and the garden calls, just as soon as I have supped my umpteenth mug of tea and taken my analgaesic pills.

    Mudlark @replies


    Second attempt, the first having disappeared into the ether.

    I’m not sure what you are asking here. If it is an opinion on whether or not the verse is Pindaric, I’m not the person to ask. If it is a comment on the meaning and ‘the last word’, I’ll have a go.

    Although I studied Horace’s Epistles, which was one of our set books for ‘A’ Level Latin Lit. that was 58 years ago and my Latin is now very rusty. In any case, I much preferred our other set books: salacious Sallust on the Catiline Conspiracy and Book VI of the Aeneid. As I had never read the Odes I had to look this up to get the context.

    As you probably know, the poem is addressed to Horace’s patron, Maecenas, and seems to be a list of ways in which men may achieve fame and glory, culminating in the statement that Maecenas’s favourable opinion of him as a poet means more to him than all these things.

    My translation, which may not be entirely accurate:

    There are those whom it pleases to raise (Lit. collect or accumulate) Olympian dust in a chariot race (or in a racing chariot) and clear the turning post (of the Circus) with blazing wheels, and whom the exalted palm (of victory) raises above the lords of the earth up to the gods.

    You are right that the word order of a sentence or clause in Latin is variable and that the emphasis is generally in the final word. Normally, especially in prose, this is the verb, but here it is the climactic ‘ad deos‘, to the gods – although the climax of the poem as a whole is in the somewhat sycophantic ending.

    Since this is Mudlark you are asking, there is a pedantic nitpick concerning  typos.  Fedrvidus for fervidus posed no difficulty, but palaque (and a spade) instead of palmaque (and the palm) had me puzzled at first 🙂

    Like the new name; very appropriate!

    Mudlark @replies

    Has anyone here in the UK been watching the latest from RTD – ‘Years and Years’?  The reviewers – at least those I have read – have been enthusiastic, though there has, been the inevitable carping BTL  -‘ third rate imitation of Black Mirror’, ‘diversity-by-numbers’, ‘BBC left wing agenda’ etc. etc.  But, since I regard the BBC as far less left wing than myself and my own family is diverse to approximately the same degree, I have been enjoying it – a rollicking glimpse of the near future as seen through the eyes and experience of three generations of one family;  blackly pessimistic,  funny and frenetically paced (and with a pretty strong cast, to boot).



    Mudlark @replies


    the historical integrity of a building ….. is always difficult to balance that against maintaining livability

    The Listing system in England, when it works as intended, is supposed to accommodate this balance, and certainly isn’t intended to prevent alteration or additions, so long as Listed Building Consent is applied for and the proposed alterations  are in keeping with the general character of the building. In the case of Grade II Listings there is a good deal of latitude, but less room to manoeuvre when it comes to the higher grades. One of my brothers until recently lived in a Grade II* Listed building which had started life as a timber framed 13th century aisled hall, had a cross wing and an upper floor added in the 16th century, and been in succession a manor house, a farmhouse, and two farm cottages, before being converted back into a single residence in the second half of the 20th century.  When it was two cottages the kitchens/living rooms had been the ground floors of the original hall and the cross wing, but when my brother and sister in law bought it the only kitchen was a rather cramped lean-to which had presumably once been added as a scullery or wash-house. They got permission to demolish the lean-to and build a larger kitchen because there was clearly a need,  but the plans had to pass the scrutiny of English Heritage (now Historic England – though why they keep changing the name baffles me), and this involved jumping through a number of tedious bureaucratic hoops. The result, though, is a practical modern kitchen/diner which justifies all the hassle and is entirely in keeping with the original building – in fact it balances the 16th century cross wing .

    I doubt if there would have been any problem with granting consent for the building of the Dalek shed if the owner had applied for consent in the first place.


    Mudlark @replies


    I think the wooden structure is organic enough to “fit”

    That was my reaction also, especially as, so far as one can tell from the photo, the structure appears to be at the rear of the building where there were probably various outhouses and lean-tos originally. The problem over planning consent has arisen, I suspect, because the building in question is Listed, meaning that it has statutory designation as being of particular historic and/or architectural interest and that any addition or alteration has to be appropriate to the original character of the building and requires special consent, even if it is only the addition of a back yard shed, and the owner, presumably out of ignorance, evidently omitted to apply for this.

    Any alterations to Grades I and II* listed buildings have to be approved by Historic England, which at least means that those doing the assessment have appropriate professional knowledge – even if some of them tend to be snooty purists; but this building is Grade II, and approval of alterations or additions is a matter for the local Planning Office whose employees seldom include architectural historians, so they tend to play safe and strictly by the book*. But they would be humourless grouches or grinches not to approve this example, once the formalities have been complied with – because who would not want a Dalek as door warden 🙂

    *Sometimes to a bone-headed degree. In one case I encountered, a very disgruntled house owner, who wanted to replace some 1960’s style windows which had been inserted into an 18th century building with some more appropriate to the period of the building, was told that no, any replacement windows must be identical with the  ones which were there when the house was Listed in the 1970s 🙄




    Mudlark @replies


    I just talk to them.

    And that, and above all listening, is the first and most important thing and what the Samaritans are trained to do – not to counsel or comment or advise, just to listen. Because in many cases it seems to be the lack of someone to talk to who will actually stop and listen to them which drives people to that desperate point.

    I have had two or three depressive episodes in my life; not to the point of being suicidal, but in one case enough to have me signed off work for several months, and what enabled me to navigate these is down to a school friend who listened when I was going through a bad patch at the age of 17/18. Not that family and teachers weren’t sympathetic and supportive, but they didn’t have the same empathic link or the time to listen. The friend in question wasn’t even one of my closest school friends, all of whom had left after taking GCE ‘O’ levels to go to the local ‘Tech’ to study science subjects (in which our school wasn’t particularly strong). Until Sixth Form I had scarcely known her except by sight and by name, because coming up the school she was in a parallel Form, but somehow she was there for me when needed and she listened to me, even though she must often have thought me a right pain in the arse.

    Immediately after our ‘A’ level year (Summer 1961) she went into hospital to have an open heart operation, at that time a new and risky procedure, and though I visited her at the time I lost touch afterwards. Since then I have often wished that I could track her down and tell her how grateful I am for all she did and meant to me; but I have tried, however clumsily and inadequately, to provide a listening ear when it seemed to be needed.

    Mudlark @replies

    @craig  @janetteb

    I believe he was viewed as a safe pair of hands

    And therein, I think, lies a problem. Because if a safe pair of hands is all the producers of the show have to fall back on Doctor Who will inevitably, whether in the short, medium or longer term, stagnate and lose the magical element which has, with a intermittent hiccups, kept it going for so long.

    Chris Chibnall has strengths as a writer and these were apparent in the latest series, but to my mind he lacks the imaginative, off-the-wall spark which is essential to the best science fiction and fantasy; a spark which Moffat had in spades, even when he overreached. It isn’t that he is not willing to take risks – in his first year as show runner he tackled tricky subjects such as the civil rights movement and partition and did so pretty effectively, but his approach was largely straightforward and from the human point of view, give or take a few largely irrelevant alien settings or intrusions.  What I look for in science fiction and fantasy are insights gained from the presentation of the human condition and human problems from oblique and unexpected angles, not excluding the mythic, and here even the alien and futuristic stories were for the most part relatively pedestrian in that respect.

    Like Janette, I found things to like in The Power of Three, even as I winced at the implausibility of some of it, but I have not so far felt motivated to view it again – though I will do so. It is telling, though, that the episodes in Chibnall’s first season as show runner generated less discussion than in previous years, and that so far I have felt little incentive to re-view them because I feel as if I had grasped all that was on offer in the first viewing – which was never the case when Moffat was in charge.


    Mudlark @replies

    @thane16  @janetteb

    TV in reception areas is a menace, but in the clinics and outpatients departments in the hospital here (as far as my experience goes – six different clinics and outpatient departments and counting) the TVs in reception and waiting areas are generally tuned to the BBC News channel and have the sound off and subtitles only, so that those who prefer to read or do crosswords or chat while waiting can do so in peace, and here the wait is usually not very long in any case. In the pharmacy waiting area they have a CCTV monitor showing the robots buzzing up and down the aisles extracting the drugs to order, which is quite entertaining for a while.

    Elections: a depressing topic these days. We have local elections coming up in a week’s time and then the European Parliamentary elections in which it wasn’t expected we would participate so that nobody has had much time to prepare.  Frog Face Farage with his newly minted Brexit Party has leapt in with enthusiasm and has a head start which is ominous. Norwich South is securely Remain territory and fairly securely Labour as far as the local elections go, with the Greens and Lib Dems as runners up and Tories nowhere, but it in the current political climate and faced with an array of mostly incompetent has-beens, wannabees and charlatans it is difficult not to feel pessimistic.

    Reverting to the subject of periwinkles

    they look kinda weedy?

    Depends what you mean by ‘weedy’. Etiolated and spindly? Only if growing in unsuitable conditions and deep shade. ‘Weed’ as in plant growing where it isn’t wanted? Possibly. Periwinkles (vinca major and minor) were introduced to Britain as garden plants but some have jumped the garden fences and hedges and are now occasionally to be found naturalised in the wild. If you mean straggly and unattractive, that comes down to what you find attractive in a garden plant. In the right place they can be very attractive, providing good ground cover and pretty flowers, and since blue is my favourite colour and a clear blue isn’t all that common in garden flowers I tend to like them. The only trouble with the one in my garden is that I didn’t plant it – it just appeared in an unsuitable place in deep shade,  so that it just straggles through the shrubs around it and rarely flowers.

    Violets do tend to be a bit thuggish, I agree. I have two varieties: the common dog violet (viola riviana), whose flowers tend to be so shy they are barely detectable, and which quickly get very unkempt and straggly, and viola labradorica, which is rather more attractive, with purplish leaves and rather more prominent flowers. Both seed themselves prolifically and I just dig them out where not wanted, otherwise leaving them to do their thing.

    Mudlark @replies


    How do you solve a problem like a vinca? On the assumption that your problem plants are catharanthus roseus and you grow them as annual bedding plants I was sufficiently intrigued to look up the recommended growing conditions and possible problems. In its original habitat it grew on sandy and limestone soils in woodland, grassland and disturbed ground, so presumably it isn’t particularly fussy. In general it is heat and drought tolerant but, as I mentioned above, not frost tolerant.

    For best results it should be planted in well drained soil which is not too rich and fertile and the plants should be set about 35 cm apart. It needs full sun to flower well, although some shade is necessary during the day or it will tend to get a bit frazzled. Once established it needs only moderate watering, preferably round the roots and not from overhead, and it doesn’t need much fertilising – a once monthly feed with a balanced liquid fertiliser at most.

    Overwatering can leave it vulnerable to fungal disease, but the only pests mentioned were slugs and snails and I’m not sure if these are likely to be problems where you are (hereabouts they certainly are, and if the hedgehog and the frogs don’t deal with them I am ruthlessly molluscicidal).

    Mudlark @replies

    @thane16  @janetteb

    I have a strong suspicion that we are not talking about the same plant. The vinca minor in @pedant ‘s photo and the vinca major which lurks at the back of my shrubbery – aka lesser and greater periwinkle – are the common varieties in these parts, native to Europe and adjacent regions,  and they are low growing hardy, evergreen perennials with long trailing stems which readily put out roots themselves so that they spread over wide area and form excellent ground cover where ground cover is needed.  The flowers of the common varieties are bright blue, like those in pedant’s photo,  but there are cultivated variants with purple, pinkish and white flowers, and there are other varieties with variegated foliage. They prefer partial shade but flower best where they get some sun – which is probably why mine never flowered much, so that I felt no compunction in hacking them back when they threatened to strangle some of the adjacent plants, but in general they are tough as old boots and are no trouble to grow.

    Then there is vinca rosa aka Madagascan periwinkle – now restyled catharanthus rosea by the botanical experts.  This is a sub-tropical perennial with bushy growth and pink or pinkish-white flowers with a darker pink centre. Does that ring any bells? I gather that it is grown widely in Australia, either as a perennial or a bedding plant, but in our climate could only be grown as a summer bedding annual or a conservatory plant since it won’t survive temperatures below 5-7 C.  I don’t recall ever having come across it in garden centres here.

    If you are talking about our common periwinkle, puro, I’m at a loss to explain why it isn’t thriving unless conditions are too dry – but then you wouldn’t need to start with more than two or three plants in the first place because of the ease with which they spread. If I am right in thinking it is the Madagascan periwinkle you are talking about, then I’m not qualified to advise.

    I sympathise with you about the loss of local, independent plant nurseries and hardware stores. To some extent the same is true here, though perhaps not to the same extent. My local garden centre, about a mile from where I live, is owned by a regional chain, Nottcutt’s and is OK for general garden supplies but offers nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to plants. One excellent nursery about 25 miles from here was sold to a Dutch conglomerate a few years ago and is no longer worth travelling the distance to visit, but there are still several wonderful independent nurseries in the region, as well as other specialists further afield from which plants can be ordered on the internet.  Most of the local independent ironmongers/hardware stores have gone within the last 30 years, but there is one which still survives and flourishes in Norwich – Thorne’s, in which it is my delight to browse. I love hardware stores and this one is special – a crazy Aladdin’s cave labyrinth of rooms on multiple levels and half levels in what I suspect is essentially an early post-medieval building, or more probably two buildings knocked into one. They still sell screws, nails, nuts and bolts, washers etc. loose, out of drawers, and in all possible sizes, plus cleaning products available nowhere else and just about everything one might need in the electrical, plumbing, house decorating, furniture restoring, DIY and gardening line without going to a trade wholesaler.

    @janetteb  Coypus are not very cute and I doubt they would make as good pets as Pottoroos. They look rather like giant rats with bright orange teeth, and were at one time a real menace here in Norfolk where they bred prolifically and the population grew to around 200,000. They are semi aquatic, burrowing into and undermining river banks, trashing local drainage systems in the low-lying areas and ravaging sugar beet crops to which they seemed particularly partial.  The father of one of my brother’s school friends was an eminent naturalist who owned an area of fenland in the Norfolk Broads* (now owned and maintained by a wildlife trust).  They had a freezer full of coypu they had trapped and apparently the stew made from these was very tasty, though I’ll take my brother’s word for it. A campaign in the 1960s and 70s to eradicate the pest was successful and, as far as I know, there are no longer any in the region.

    *For the uninitiated, the Norfolk Broads are large areas of open water formed by flooded medieval peat diggings   and connected by a network of rivers in low lying fenland on the eastern side of the county near the coast. Not to be confused with the Fens which extend into Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire on the west side of the county.  My father (in all innocence I think, although knowing him I’m not entirely sure) once shocked a visiting colleague from the USA by enquiring whether he had taken the opportunity while here to visit the Norfolk Broads (and if the point of that is not immediately apparent, I refer you to old style US slang).

    Mudlark @replies


    Scrub my tentative identification above; it’s evident that my visual memory is becoming less reliable. Yesterday, working in the garden, I came across some Greater Periwinkle lurking at the back of the shrubbery – it rarely flowers, which is why I tend to overlook it. With that as a more immediate basis for comparison I can confidently confirm that your friend is correct; your photo is of Lesser Periwinkle (vinca minor).


    Crocuses are always a welcome harbinger of spring and it is good to know that it has finally arrived in your corner of the world. By all accounts you have had a particularly brutal winter. And how lovely to have your own local beaver! Beavers have recently been reintroduced to Britain in a few selected places, seemingly with beneficial result to some local ecosystems although not everyone thinks it is a good idea. At least they were once indigenous to this island, which cannot be said of coypus which were at one time farmed here for their fur, escaped, established themselves in this area and became a pest. In the 1960s when we lived next to a river our cat, a Siamese, once caught a young one*, and very proud of herself she was too; doing her best to re-establish the local ecological balance.

    Here the crocuses blooms are long past and I am currently engaged in clearing the shaggy foliage which is now beginning to die back, so as to give the emerging herbaceous plants some space and air . It’s weird to think that we here in East Anglia are further north in latitude than you are, but then that’s the effect of the Gulf Stream and a maritime climate. Over the Easter holiday we have been enjoying unseasonably summery weather, with blazing sunshine and temperatures in the 20s C, though here, near the North Sea coast it is cooler than inland. Lovely, except when you reflect that it probably another indicator of climate change.

    As regards tadpole watch, my pessimism was unfounded. There are squillions of them, and the surface of the pond is now in constant bubbling motion as a result. Only a small fraction of them will reach maturity as froglets, alas. I doubt if there are any dragonfly or damsel fly larvae to predate them this year, but they do tend to develop cannibalistic tendencies as they get bigger.

    * I was not at home at the time but by all accounts it was as big as herself. An adult would have been quite beyond even her predatory capacity, of course.

    Mudlark @replies


    Periwinkle certainly, but without a measure of scale it’s difficult to be certain whether greater (vinca major) or lesser (vinca minor).  Judging by the shape of the leaves alone I suspect that it is probably vinca major. The leaves of vinca minor are narrower and more lanceolate and the plant as a whole, needless to say, is smaller. One tell-tale difference, according to Keble Martin, is that in vinca minor the lobes of the calyx are glabrous and in vinca major they are ciliate. The location under a hedge is fairly typical of either, whether planted as a cultivar or in the wild as a garden escape.

    Mudlark @replies


    The way I’ve been feeling lately, Madlark wouldn’t be entirely inappropriate.

    It’s definitely not Dog Violet, although that was my first thought until I took a closer look.  Ground Ivy was the next thing that came to mind, evoking memories of my rural childhood, but considering how long it is since I last saw the latter I did check in Keble Martin’s British Flora to make sure. The leaves of the two species are superficially similar but there are considerable differences in the form of the stems and the manner of growth and the flowers are also different except in colour; dog violets don’t have that lobed lower petal, and the form of the calyx also differs.

    Mudlark @replies


    Judging by the photo I’m pretty certain that it’s Ground Ivy (glechoma hederacea) which is fairly common in woodland and shady places and flowers April-June (no relation of hedera helix, obviously)

    Mudlark @replies

    @winston  @janetteb

    Bear in mind that there may have been the teeniest element of hyperbole in the description of Mudlark Manor 😉 As Puro well knows, the ‘rolling acres’ consist of a plot measuring 54ft x 54ft – about average for the garden of a mid 1930s English suburban house, but unusual in this case in that it is attached to a purpose-built flat of that period*, and square rather than the more usual elongated rectangle

    The ‘ornamental lake’ is in fact a small pool, roughly kidney shaped, with a pebbled surround (constructed by me, using an abundance of rounded pebbles dug from the garden, supplemented with a bag of cobbles bought from the local garden centre), bordered by a small rockery constructed of soil excavated for the pool on a foundation of builders’ debris dug from the garden. The ‘Wilderness’ is not the extensive, artfully contrived arrangement of ornamental trees and footpaths denoted by that 17th-19th century term, but a small shrubbery bordering the garden on the north east and east sides and containing an assortment of evergreen and deciduous small trees and shrubs chosen for contrasting but harmonious foliage colours, with an underplanting of snowdrops, Spanish bluebells, lily-of-the-valley, Brunnera and autumn crocuses, plus self-seeding forget-me-nots and foxgloves.  There is a broad, south facing  herbaceous border along the north side, and a small, hourglass shaped lawn with a central bed containing a Japanese maple and low-growing shrubs. On the west side, adjoining the building, is a raised terrace bed retained by a dry wall of weathered concrete blocks which littered the garden when I inherited it and are, so I am told, the rubble from a demolished WW II air raid shelter. The ‘rocks’ in the rockery are from the same source but, since in their weathered state they somewhat resemble natural conglomerate and so look a little more at home in this region than the limestone normally sold for such use, it doesn’t look incongruous. The roses are, however, as described. I have elected to have shrub roses, species roses and climbers, which are easier to manage and less subject to problems than hybrid teas and are, to my mind, more attractive in a less-than-formal setting. I benefit, also, from a number of ‘borrowed’ trees in the five gardens which border mine**

    Needless to say, there were never any deer. In the rural parks attached to the great aristocratic country houses they help to keep the grass cropped, but in this context they would be a pest since, as the elder of my two brothers knows, they are equally prone to browse on the choicest garden specimens. We used to have foxes but even they seem to have disappeared, so we are left with just grey squirrels and a wide variety of birds.

    The aged, arthritic gardener is, of course, myself. I have always done all the work, including design and some hard landscaping, myself – although in recent years I have once or twice used the services of a tree surgeon to do things that I would have tackled when I was younger and fitter.

    Winston, the noise our native frogs make is better described as a muted croaking rather than singing, and they are only really vocal in mating season, which is now past. I inspected the frog spawn this morning and things look somewhat less hopeful. There are several cats in the vicinity who have been spotted eating it in past years, although I have installed a motion activated cat scarer and I don’t think that is the problem. Today, however, there was a lot less spawn in evidence, but if it has hatched the hatchling tadpoles were elusive. The frog population here is in decline, partly because of loss of habitat in the rural, agricultural areas, and partly because the warming climate seems to render them more susceptible to disease. Many in my garden died last year, and few if any of the tadpoles survived to maturity, possibly because the pond had been neglected and had become stagnant while I was recovering from the last hip operation. I cleaned it and restocked it with oxygenators and marginal plants last summer and  I am keeping my fingers crossed that this will improve matters.

    Janette: Five million signatures is now nearing 6 million and, though the rate is much slower, still increasing at the rate of around 5000 an hour. And despite claims that anyone can sign multiple times and that bots have been involved, they do seem to have ways of identifying fraudulent signatures and do purge the doubtful ones.  Once when I checked the site I actually saw the numbers scroll backwards by several thousand. Nevertheless it seems a futile gesture, since the government is evidently still hostage to the extremist Brexiteers in the ERG, not to mention May’s devil’s pact with the DUP; and though parliament is theoretically sovereign I am not confident they will prevail, even to the extent of preventing a ‘no deal’, fall-off-the-cliff crash out


    *Blocks of four. Upstairs flats get the back garden, downstairs flats the somewhat smaller front gardens.

    ** The gardens to either side are the same size as mine, but at the further end the gardens of the houses which back onto mine are narrower, so mine borders one centrally and half of the two to either side of it.

    Mudlark @replies


    Is it time to panic yet..?

    Better ask the mice. If they don’t know yet, we’re DOOMED!

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    Is Oliver Letwin the hero we were hankering after?

    Hmmm. In a situation so desperate that a murmured, ‘Don’t you think she looks tired’? in an influential ear isn’t going to have the slightest effect, I suppose that even the dimmest spark can look like the light at the end of the tunnel. And when I find myself agreeing with Michael Heseltine matters have clearly reached the furthest extreme of Kafkaesque absurdity 🙃.


    Thank you for the enquiry. The rolling acres of Mudlark Manor are still looking a trifle dishevelled after the winter and, in the absence of the deer herd, which seems unaccountably to have left in search of greener pastures, I suppose that I shall soon have to mow the grass.  On the other hand, now that the ornamental lake has been restored to a more healthy state I have hopes that, unlike last year, the current mass of frogspawn will result in an abundant generation of tadpoles.

    I have made some progress in bringing order to the overgrown north east corner of the Wilderness, and in the Pleasure Grounds the shrub roses and the climbing roses have now had a belated pruning; but much still remains to be done and the aged gardener keeps on whingeing about her arthritis.

    The more immediate problem is that the vintage Rolls (currently masquerading as a Suzuki Swift) has a date for its MOT on Thursday afternoon and needs to be given a thorough wash and brush-up if it is not to cause raised eyebrows at the garage. I meant to do it today, but it is standing in a shared driveway and the neighbours for once left both their cars parked closely alongside it all day (washing it in the roadway would be no better, since the road is in fact a narrow close and it would cause an obstruction). So I whiled away the afternoon browsing in the archives of 17th century Rochdale in the faint hope of finding something to shed light on the antecedents of my 6x gt grandfather in the paternal line.

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    Democracy was in tatters before the votes were even counted.

    Quite so; and when May asserts that public faith in democracy would be destroyed if the results of the 2016 referendum were not treated as an irrevocable mandate I am torn between the impulse to laugh hysterically and the desire to scream loudly in frustration. And yes, the general opinion of those outside the bubble seems to be that the UK has lost its collective mind. Even in the unlikely event of a U turn and a cancellation of Brexit, I doubt if our national reputation will recover within my lifetime – or well beyond it for that matter.

    Sadly, as you say there, there is no credible hero or heroine on the horizon galloping to save the situation. Where is the Doctor when we need him/her?



    Mudlark @replies


    You may be thinking of the Christmas special, A Christmas Carol, although that was the eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, not Peter Capaldi.

    Mudlark @replies

    @bluesqueakpip  @idiotsavon

    That’s if May goes of course. I wouldn’t put it past her to cling on

    Given her record of bloody minded obduracy May will have to be dragged out and will cling to the curtains and brace herself in the door frame on the way rather than go willingly.  With her it’s all ‘my way or the highway’, and her typical negotiating stance seems to be to repeat this or words to the same effect with her fingers stuffed in her ears and her eyes squeezed tight shut, ‘not listening, not listening’

    Liam Fox is reported as saying that the problem is we have a ‘remain’ parliament and a ‘leave’ population. I wonder if he has looked at the opinion polls recently, or taken into account the import of the march on Saturday or the petition to parliament, currently fast approaching 5.5 million signatures.  At the very least it’s a 50:50 split, with remain now having at least a slight edge; and therein, together with a totally inept and dysfunctional government, lies the fundamental problem 😒

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    A dubious entity calling itself Elizabeth Barron has just messaged me, purporting to be a wealthy widow on the point of popping her clogs who wants my assistance in distributing her millions to the needy. Why am I suspicious of this philanthropy 🙄

    Mudlark @replies


    By which you mean that is how you prefer them.

    Yes,  that is exactly what I meant.

    On the subject of maple syrup, I agree that it is delicious. I acquired the taste for it very early in life during the time of post-war food rationing, when relatives in Canada used to send us food parcels which included boxes of maple sugar candy. Since I don’t have much of a sweet tooth I tend use it sparingly rather than swamping things with it, but find it very good drizzled on hot muffins*, split and liberally buttered. Ditto with hot potato cakes, though its a long time since I last made those. Maple sugar sprinkled on hot buttered toast is also toothsome.


    Re drop scones/pikelets. Are we talking about the same thing?  Because where I come from at least they are different. Drop scones here are made with a batter like that for pancakes/crepes but thicker and slightly sweetened, whereas pikelets are made with a batter containing yeast and are similar to crumpets, except that they are thinner and larger in diameter. Both are cooked on a griddle, though.

    * Obviously I mean the kind of muffin made with bread flour and yeast and baked on a griddle, not the other, cake-like type.

    Mudlark @replies

    @winston  @thane16

    Pancakes mmmm 😊

    American style pancakes (which in the UK are more like what we would call drop scones or scotch pancakes) are very good with butter and/or maple syrup, if a little sweet for my taste, but pancakes on this side of the pond (crepes in American English)*  are as illustrated in the Olney pancake race (thanks @pedant ) and for my taste are best served straight out of the pan, not piled up and kept warm until they are limp and tepid. For preference they should be eaten with lemon juice and sugar, though I certainly don’t object to them served with jam, fruit or savoury fillings. On Shrove Tuesday evenings my poor mother used to be stuck at the stove wielding the frying pan and dishing them out one at a time to each of us in turn as we lined up with our plates, ate, and then returned to the queue. She only got to eat at the end.  Drop scone batter did include sugar but pancake batter in our house did not, although a pinch of salt was, as puro says, essential. Drop scones, like potato cakes, were a teatime treat.

    *  Way back in the 1970s and 80s I used to spend two or three weeks of my annual leave (supplemented by time off in lieu of overtime) working with friends as a supervisor on a long running summer excavation. In the 1980s the scale of operations expanded greatly and we started employing American volunteers from Earthwatch. We were accommodated in one of the Houses of a well known Public (in the British sense) School, and one year the cooking was being done by students from a local catering college who were very anxious to please and to show off their skills. When some of the Americans asked if we might have pancakes for breakfast they were very happy to oblige. So they got up early to prepare the batter and in due course produced what they understood as pancakes, which were very good but left the Americans completely bewildered: ‘But these are crepes, not pancakes???’  Confusion all round!  But they ate them without complaint, nevertheless.

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    In your climate a tank would obviously be more appropriate for rain water storage than the kind of water butt we normally use here, but even so, $5ooo seems extortionate unless the tank is absolutely vast. I have two rain water butts, one 300 litres (66 gallons) capacity and the other 100 litres, and they normally supply enough to water the plants in containers and the lime intolerant shrubs throughout even a dry summer. The two of them together with their stands came in at well under £100. Out of interest I have just looked up the prices of rain water storage tanks in the UK, and one with 10,000 litres capacity was quoted at £1170, which I calculate as equivalent to something like  A$2113 – still on the steep side, but a lot less than $5000.

    Absent a supply of rain water, maybe the tip about dosing the water with coffee grounds would suffice. Either way, you don’t want the gardenia to get thirsty, or it will sulk 😒

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