Monthly Archives: May 2014

return to ragged robin

Mrs Turnstone is still talking about Magdalene College’s Ragged Robin plantation. One way and another, that sent me to Keble Martin’s Flora, which gave me the Latin name: Lychnis flos-cuculi L., or the cuckoo’s flower. Since this was named by Linnaeus himself, I guess the Swedes, like their German neighbours, associate this plant with the bird of spring and summer, rather than our winter companion. And when the North Wind doth blow, what does the Swedish robin do then, poor thing?

Bird Song

The cuckoo of May Day Eve is still vocal across the meadow. He must be spending his time in the woodland on the disused railway bank. He’s the first resident cuckoo we’ve had so close in a great many years.

We recently returned from Wroclaw, Poland, where the house looked across meadows to an active railway track. The trains asserted their territorial rights by whistling as they approached the nearby level crossing.

Also vocal in claiming their territory were blackbirds, a most emphatic and persistent reed warbler, a cock pheasant and two cuckoos, one of them a little hoarse. The birds’ outpourings made early morning tea a pleasure in the tiny back garden. I like to think their emotion is one of celebration as well as assertion: enjoyment of the gift of home.

As for the cuckoo: he had no home, and was probably hatched in the warbler’s nest, down by the railway line’s territorial marker – the reed-filled ditch.

I found myself wishing that the birds’ territory would not be entirely swallowed up by the houses advancing, terrace by terrace, out of the city. Perhaps the railway and reed beds will provide a lasting haven for the smaller birds. I doubt they will shelter the pheasants once the fields are all built over.

And yet; it must be a joy to move out of those grey communist era apartments into a place of one’s own, a room of one’s own. Virginia Woolf almost took that for granted – then realised how precious a gift it is and wrote about it. I have to confess to rubbing my house keys like a talisman as I turn the corner and make for home. Let’s say I know how blessed I am.

ragged robin

Crossing Magdalene Bridge, Mrs Turnstone was delighted to find that the college gardeners had sown a wild meadow including these ragged robin. Thank you to the gardeners of Magdalene!

Slow Down, You Move too Fast!

Slow Down, You Move too Fast!

I was riding down Abbot’s Hill, along the side of the abandoned railway embankment, when the sleek black cat sauntered across the cycle path, then leapt to pat at a fly. This slowed my progress enough for me to see the little girl and to know that she was about to run across in front of me. As I braked I heard her mother’s warning; I’m sure she did not!

A tolerant mother she was, for her daughter was dressed in new clothes – third birthday finery perhaps. A white, flower-printed dress and white tights with new party shoes: no doubt very smart in her own eyes. The little one must have been walking along the top of the bank, despite brambles and nettles waiting to catch her legs. Why wear jeans on your birthday?

As I watched, the girl ran from her mother, who was on the wrong side of the pushchair to catch her, up the bank a step or two, where she snatched up a new rag doll, all gingham dress and red plaited hair, and ran back across my path.

‘Worth risking your life for,’ smiled her mother. The doll was real to the little girl; who could doubt that her mother would as spontaneously risk her life for her dear one? There’s a thought for Eastertime.

Past generations

This is from last year, before I began blogging. It tells about the woodmouse’s mother who was our commensal. And no, we did not  borrow the cats, and would not have done so; sealing off the cupboards did the trick. In the present day, Junior Miss Tittlemouse came out to entertain NAIB2 and Mrs Turnstone this afternoon.



23rd August:

Mrs Turnstone’s mouse should not be in the house. She’s not even a house mouse, but a wood mouse who really ought to be at the other side of the French windows, scurrying among the ivy, eating apricot stones and grass seed and even beans and peas. (She did have my first sowing of runner beans, to be fair.)

We know she’s a wood mouse because she comes indoors most evenings to entertain us. The catch-her-alive traps do not work. She seems to have worked out that they are dangerous and avoids entering them by the trapdoor. Last night she was trying instead to get at the peanut butter by nibbling at the side joint, but shunned the welcome mat at the front.

In an old house like this there are innumerable ways for Mrs Tittlemouse to come in and out without our seeing, though she does seem to use the French windows if they are open. Under the floorboards she can progress from front room to living room – let’s hope she doesn’t take up residence in the sofa stuffing. All the mouse-friendly food, including Alphege’s dog biscuits, is now in tall plastic boxes that she cannot climb; the one kitchen cupboard she could get into now contains tins and jars only, but still she scurries about as though she owns the place and merely tolerates us. She comes close enough to tickle my feet with her whiskers, but I’m not fast enough to catch her.

We don’t want to borrow our daughter’s cats!



The tide of builders’ equipment in the Turnstone garden has receded, leaving the family to enjoy the corner under the apricot tree for coffee and cake. This afternoon even Mrs Turnstone was not with me but sleeping off her night’s work at the hospice.

But I was not alone. Peeping from the log pile or between the plant pots: two black eyes and a twitching nose; round ears, tiny hands and a magnificent tail; the new generation of woodmouse clearly sees the garden as hers. She’s discovered that builders drop sandwich crumbs around the bench. I don’t think they know about her; she’s only half-grown so cannot have been out much.

Her mother made free of the kitchen last summer and foraged across the ground floor, hoping we’d not swept up. She would sit fearlessly by us, holding her find and nibbling contentedly. The cupboards had to be mouseproofed when she took to eating oats  from the packet, or biscuits or pasta. Traps were ignored or raided with impunity. She would scuttle across bare human feet of an evening, trusting we would do her no harm.

That brave or foolhardy trait has been inherited by today’s youngster. Let’s hope she escapes the local cats, who watched the compost heap all through last summer. We have disturbed nests there before.

More firsts: the first cuckoo on Mayday eve, and the first swallow, spotted by Mrs Turnstone the day after Miss Tittlemouse appeared.