Author Archives: willturnstone

Bugs do like bug houses

My friend was worried because he had not seen any activity around his smart new Bug Hotel so we went to look at the little old one that has been there for four years at least. Here it is: the red arrows are pointing to bamboo tubes being used by a leafcutter bee; the yellow arrow shows where she was working when the picture was taken. I think there’s a corner of a wing visible. She lays an egg in each of the leaf-lined bedrooms she creates, together with enough honey to see her babies through to adulthood. Will they be back next year?

Foraging has its disadvantages

To gather blackberries you must be prepared for scratches and nettle stings. Lime flowers are usually within reach, though wild cherries are not. Sweet little hedgerow plums also come with nettles and sloes grow on the blackthorn.

Walnuts, once you’ve found them, are often in easy reach of the upright human, but the trouble comes later. To prepare them for pickling, the unripe nuts in their green shells – as seen in our last post – must be pricked all over with a fork before steeping in brine for five days. Pricking the nuts releases the juice, which is a very effective fake tan, or rather a fake 50 a day smoker’s tan, such as is rarely seen today. I could wear gloves, if I could find XXXXL size that would not split as I pulled them on. So I’ll go with the deeply unfashionable nicotine addict look.

And I shall join Mrs Turnstone, who gathered walnuts with me, and others who did not, in enjoying the nuts in due season. (Happy Christmas in advance!)

Foraging Season

I think we can declare the foraging season open! There have been a few wild cherries that the birds have not eaten, not enough to make a mall jar of jam, but the first blackberry was picked today, 6th July, about 9 days earlier than expected. Like the cherries, it was a little tart.

Last week I was harvesting lime – linden – flowers by the river, when a man, who looked Mediterranean, saw me. He grabbed a handful of the flowering branch-tips and plunged his face into them, inhaling the scent deep into his lungs. What memories were quickening for him?

This evening I went to look at a tree I had marked as likely to be in full bloom today. So had someone else. Being taller than most people, there were still flowers within my reach. I went home along a path I rarely take, and soon reached another lime tree in flower, scenting the wind. Plenty for me and those who might come after me.

Our other discovery was two walnut trees in public thoroughfares, ripe for foraging the soft-shelled nuts for pickling. As our daughter said, the longest day is past, Christmas is coming!

National Insect Week

I just read that today is the end of Britain’s National Insect Week, so here’s a bee, to remind us of how important they are. Thanks to the bees, this pyracantha, or firethorn, will be covered in flaming yellow, orange or red berries come the autumn. Our blackbirds love them. There’s always something to look forward to in the garden. Laudato si!

A Kerfuffle in Canterbury.

We were about to sit down to lunch in the garden, with all the furniture arranged for social distancing, when there was a mighty clamour from the roof of next-door-but-one. That roof has a hole, approximately 20cm square, where a tile has fallen. this has been a godsend to the sparrows who seem to be on the increase; they’ve moved back into a hole under our eaves which was abandoned for a few years. Two sparrows in particular are tame enough to come near to our table and suggest that we might spare a crumb. How could we say no?

It turned out that the racket on the roof was from the combined forces of sparrows and starlings, combining to chase away a pair of magpies who were taking too close an interest in the hole in the roof. The magpies left the scene, apparently empty-beaked, and life seemed to return to normal for the little birds.

Except that there was a little chick, still flightless, struggling at the edge of the garden pond. With wet feathers it was becoming more difficult, till Mrs T stretched out her arm and pulled the sorry sodden sparrowlet to safety. The little fellow seemed to know that safety lay in camouflage, hiding in the herbaceous border, but loud ‘feed me’ chirps told us he was still around.

I think he may have been involved in the magpie incident, perhaps pulled out of the nest but dropped to the ground as the bigger birds fled. Let’s hope his devoted parents’ efforts to feed him in hiding were enough to bring him to the joys of flight!

Common Contemplations

A mind able to see common incidents in their real state, is disposed by very common incidents to very serious contemplations. Let us trust that a time will come, when the present moment shall be no longer irksome; when we shall not borrow all our happiness from hope, which at last is to end in disappointment.

Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765″ by James Boswell.

As a partly Staffordshire man, I thought it was about time I read Boswell’s Life of Johnson. Samuel Johnson was inclined to melancholy, but disposed to serious contemplation – as we all should be, whatever our character traits. He is the one who said, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. Have a good week!

A walk around Fredville and Barfrestone.

On the occasion of our Ruby Wedding, Mrs Turnstone and I took a walk around the country park belonging to Fredville House. This is still working farmland, but the trees have been planted over the last 300 years and more to create a pleasing classical landscape. Our walk took us through the park and back in by one of the gatekeeper’s lodges, then returning to the park and out by another lodge. We were now in Frogham with its redbrick cottages, but we pressed on, past the tree nursery and along a short stretch of the North Downs Way, noting the new, far from lowly cattle shed and into the village of Barfrestone. We caught a glimpse through the hedge of the house where we met, the Old Rectory, then visited the graves of L’Arche friends, and into the old churchyard, admiring one stone in particular, noticing the gardener and St Thomas over the door of the ancient church of Saint Nicholas. After a picnic on the grass, one last look at the rectory, and home to Canterbury.

Going Viral XXIII: what we take for granted.

Written in 1890, still worth reflecting on today!

Railway lines had been laid over the whole 700 or 800 miles to facilitate my progress; bridges had been built, and tunnels made; an army of engineers, and guards, and signal-men, and porters, and clerks were waiting to take charge of me, and to see to my comfort and safety.  All I had to do was to tell Society (here represented by a railway booking-clerk) where I wanted to go, and to step into a carriage; all the rest would be done for me.  Books and papers had been written and printed; so that if I wished to beguile the journey by reading, I could do so.  At various places on the route, thoughtful Society had taken care to be ready for me with all kinds of refreshment (her sandwiches might be a little fresher, but maybe she thinks new bread injurious for me).  When I am tired of travelling and want to rest, I find Society waiting for me with dinner and a comfortable bed, with hot and cold water to wash in and towels to wipe upon.  Wherever I go, whatever I need, Society, like the enslaved genii of some Eastern tale, is ready and anxious to help me, to serve me, to do my bidding, to give me enjoyment and pleasure.

From “Diary of a Pilgrimage” by Jerome K. Jerome

25 May: Keeping on, keeping on.

Eddie Gilmore of the Irish Chaplaincy describes how he has been coping with the discipline of working from home. (1 May 2020)

My life in lockdown has become a bit monastic, and there’s a lot I like about that. There’s quite a nice, simple balance of work, prayer, meals, reading, recreation (much of that in the form of walking or cycling). I’m a bit more tuned in than usual to the subtle but magical changes in the natural world: the colours and the smells, the times of the day when the birds sing more loudly, the wonderful sight in the sky a few nights ago of a crescent moon underneath a brightly shining Venus.

Read the whole article here.

Thank you Eddie for allowing us to use your writings! There will be a barbecue to end all this enforced confinement, but even now, let your heart be unconfined!

Going Viral XXII: Litter picker rage.

After a couple of weeks off, i took the litter picker for a walk. There has been less litter about because there are fewer litter louts about. There are even fewer cigarette ends – maybe people are living more healthy lives. I suppose wearing masks to avoid infection is another manifestation of that. So, if you are so tuned into the need to be safe from germs, why throw your used mask down in the street?