Monthly Archives: April 2023

The Vertical City Has Disappeared!

Dear Readers, we have been very lucky so far with the weather in Toronto, but today the skyscrapers have disappeared into the low clouds. It’s difficult to keep your spirits up when the world outside is so dismal and grey, but fortunately R, who is looking after our cat while we’re away, has been sending me updates and photos so I know exactly how Willow is getting on.

To start with she was definitely very suspicious.

But as the days have worn on, she’s started to relax, and to even come downstairs when she hears the door open to see if there’s any food in the offing…

And now she is quite happy to be stroked…

And seems generally much more relaxed.

This morning R tells me that her 3 year-old daughter was ‘reading’ an Ursula Le Guin story to the cat, who was unimpressed but unfazed. I told R that the cat was used to Tolstoy so maybe felt a bit underwhelmed :-). And just look at that lovely London weather! R tells me that the cat is following the sun  around the house, as usual. She’d have a spot of bother doing that here in Toronto today.

One thing that R and I have both concluded is that the cat is probably now completely deaf – last time I tried to get her into a cat carrier she was asleep and I was able to pick her up gently and pop her in before she even noticed, something I would never have been able to do if she’d been able to hear me – I swear that she slept with one ear open. Also, her yowls for food and attention have gotten much louder, so I suspect she can’t hear herself. Still, apart from that she seems perfectly happy, and I’m really pleased that she’s eating well while we’re away. It’s one less thing to worry about.

And so we’re at the turning point of the holiday, with a few more lovely friends to see, and my mother-in-law’s 95th birthday on Thursday. It’s been a hard trip in many ways, but there are many compensations. Still, I find my thoughts turning gradually back towards home. Let’s see what the next few days brings.

Along Richmond Street, Toronto

Dear Readers, Richmond Avenue runs east/west through Toronto, and en route it seems to change its nature several times. Here, for example, we get a fine view of the CN tower, once the tallest free-standing structure in the world (at 1815 feet) but now relegated to the tallest free-standing structure on land in the Western Hemisphere. So there. And believe me, there is currently a sponsored run which takes place on the internal staircase, and I imagine that would be enough to give pause to even the keenest of runners. At one point there was also the ‘opportunity’ to do a bungee jump from the top, the very thought of which makes my stomach flip.

Further along, we come to this array of black polished stone with what looks like green drinking straws poked through it. It’s called ‘Nova’ and it’s by Canadian sculptor Shayne  Dark. The building itself is known as the Tableau Condominium.

And what do I see to the left, but a portrait of Anne Boleyn?

And what is the name of the attached pub? As an A-Level History student (with a speciality in Tudor history) I am somewhat taken aback, for the only Queen Anne that I know ruled from 1665 to 1714 and was played by Olivia Coleman in ‘The Favourite’. Anne Boleyn was never queen in her own right as we know, what with her head getting chopped off etc etc. Maybe this is Canadian wishful thinking. 

Anyhow, on we go – we are aiming for the new local history museum, known as Myseum, which is at 401 Richmond Street. And here it is.

They have an exhibition called ‘Ten’, which is about ten Toronto neighbourhoods, but I find it a little disappointing. There’s both too much to take in, and not enough of any one thing to follow a coherent thread. Plus, there is a man pontificating to his friend at the top of his capacious lungs. One thing I have found on this trip is that I am becoming allergic to words for the sake of words. I find myself yearning for a bit of silent contemplation. Still, the etiquette of museums and galleries is very different in different places – I remember being heartily ‘shushed’ in MOMA in New York for discussing a piece too loudly with a friend, and that isn’t a pleasant experience either. Maybe I’ll take myself off on a silent retreat at some point and see if that helps to moderate my rapidly decreasing sociability.

Onwards! Back we go towards our hotel (The Cambridge Suites – we have being staying here for the best part of twenty years but it, too, is earmarked for development into condominiums). We spot a very big ‘ghost sign’, an indication of how the neighbourhood used to be. I think it says ‘Tip Top Tailors’, and indeed there was such a company in Toronto. They had a huge factory on the lakeshore which is now, believe it or not, some more condominiums.

The Tip Top Tailors building (Photo by By SimonP – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Next, we have the Mandarin Oriental hotel with its strange metal animal wrapped around the glass outside. It’s called ‘Rising’ and the sculptor is Zhuang Huan. Apparently it cost $CAD5m. It is supposed to resemble a dragon with a flock of birds rising from it. To me, it looks more like an unfortunate animal being devoured by sparrows, but maybe that’s just my inner philistine coming through. See what you think.

Then there’s the New Brutalism of the Sheraton hotel…

And then there’s the Victory building, tucked away between a couple of towers. In its day (it was completed in 1937) it was strikingly modern, and I love all the art deco flourishes. It was apparently the first office tower in Canada to be completely air-conditioned. These days, it is leased out for office/co-working space, but at least the building is intact, unlike those who have been stripped and demolished.

So, like so much of Toronto, Richmond Street is a hodge-podge, from ultra-modern tower blocks to 1930s gems. There is so much construction still going on that it’s difficult to find the place charming at the moment – I have never seen so many concrete-mixers in a downtown area, and I live in London. What will be left when it’s done, and how will it all ‘sit’ together? Only time will tell.

At Yonge and Eglinton

View along Eastbourne Avenue

Dear Readers, my husband grew up in the leafy neighbourhood of Yonge and Eglinton, an area of medium-sized family homes with huge maple trees and some stunning magnolias, like the one below. When he was growing up, children used to play in the street (and there are still a few basketball hoops around). It’s generally a quiet place. John’s mother has lived here for more than sixty years, and when she first moved in it was a place where everyone knew their neighbours. Alas, over the years things have changed – as in so many places the community is more fractured, with shopping, education and work all taking place in different directions and different  parts of town. When people talk scathingly about the ’15 minute city’ idea, it’s worth remembering that it isn’t actually that new – people used to do their shopping locally, their children would go to local schools, and they certainly wouldn’t be commuting for hours. It wasn’t perfect, but it did foster neighbourliness and a sense of belonging to ‘somewhere’. 


Because the power and telephone lines are above ground, some of the trees have been pruned around where the wires run, which can  make for some most unusual shapes (and some very brutal cutting back in some places).


You can still hear birds singing – there was a house finch singing from a shrub in my mother-in-law’s garden yesterday, and the sparrows are positively boisterous. But then you get to the corner, and this is what you see:

Below gives a view back towards Davisville Station, and shows the scale of the streets before all this ‘condominiumation’. I wouldn’t mind so much if any of these new apartments were affordable for the average Torontonian just starting out in life, but the prices are eye-watering. As with London, I wonder where all the people that are so vital to the life of a city – the health workers, the cleaners, the transport workers, the emergency service workers – are going to end up living.

So many of the local high streets were comprised of two-storey buildings with ‘mom and pop’ stores on the ground floor, and flats above. There were local restaurants and delicatessens, hairdressers and repair shops, the inevitable coffee shops (many of them local businesses rather than chains), bakers and butchers and probably candlestick makers as well. Now, many of these businesses are blighted by development plans, not just for more condos, but also because of the new Light Railway that is being built, plus a subway extension.

Still, there are a few businesses that are worth a mention and are still hanging on in spite of everything that the pandemic, the condominium building and the transport disruption.

First up is Mr Phipps. I just realised that it’s actually called Phipps Bakery, after all these years of adding the ‘Mr’. It does the best butter tarts, and it’s where we’ve ordered the birthday cake for John’s Mum (who will be 95 next week). The staff are lovely, and if you fancy a sweet treat you won’t do better, plus their challah bread is stunning. They’ve been going since 1986 and make all their own baked goods so if you’re in Toronto, give them a visit. You won’t be disappointed.

Secondly, there’s the Crosstown Coffee Bar – great coffee, and the people running it are so friendly. They have a short menu of lunch sandwiches, and their apple and oatmeal muffin is delicious.

And finally, about 20 minutes walk away on Mount Pleasant there’s Domaine Mamo, a restaurant that we hadn’t visited before, but which is a small, neighbourly place which definitely deserves to succeed. If you go, do not miss the panisse (chickpea chips) – they are so delicious and more-ish, probably the best I’ve ever tasted.


At The Beach(es)

Dear Readers, if you were to get on a 501 streetcar on and head east, you would, after about 30 minutes on a good day, end up on the shores of Lake Ontario in a district called The Beach (or The Beaches depending on how old you are and what social pretensions you have). You might almost think you were at the seaside, except that there isn’t that briney twang in the air. There are certainly lots of gulls and a few terns, and many, many dogs, including this enormous harlequin Great Dane.

The air is full of the cries of red-winged blackbirds, which always makes me sad these days, because it reminds me of time spent with my beloved departed aunties.

But there is something about a brisk walk that always lifts the spirits, and of course there’s always something to see, like this Olympic swimming pool which is being renovated, and which has sparrows nesting in the defunct lights.

The side of the swimming pool, in new brutalist concrete

The sparrows’ nest in the light fixture

There are some small species tulips in one of the dune areas, which are currently being protected to enable milkweed and other plants for butterflies to grow. The tulips aren’t native but they are rather pretty.

I always forget that Lake Ontario is still a transport hub, so I was surprised at the size of this ship on the horizon. And how delighted I was to find this website, which shows which ships are currently on the Lake and where they’re going. I believe that the ship below could be the Robert S.Pierson, which is a self-discharging bulk carrier. So now you know.

And I think that this has to be the most enigmatic lifeguard station I’ve ever seen. It looks like a short story just waiting to happen.

And finally we’re back on the long and varied main drag of The Beach(es) and it’s time for a coffee. We get into The Remarkable Bean just before the cycling club, whose members are mainly older than I am and definitely put me to shame. I can recommend the lemon and blueberry scone if you’re passing.

And finally, as we head back to the street car, we pass a small park with a magnolia tree that is whiter than the whitest snow, a real showstopper. The photos don’t do it justice, but you get the idea.

And finally, here are some Crown Imperials. In the UK, it’s a plant that is sometimes now pollinated by blue tits, who have taken to drinking the nectar. I wonder if the chickadees in Canada will get the same idea?

A Change in the Light

Dear Readers, yesterday was mostly a drab, dank day in Toronto, with everything in shades of grey. The buildings are often painted in a colour that I can only describe as ‘bottom of a stagnant pond’, and the chill winds whistle between the skyscrapers so that you feel like an ant in a ravine. We went for dinner at the Queen Mother Café, which is a big hit with local students, and even as we sat eating our chocolate pecan pie, the sky lightened and everywhere lit up with spectacular evening light.

We went for a quick walk to Grange Park, which is where you get a view of the Ontario College of Art and Design, with its Will Alsop-designed extension, the Rosalie Sharp Centre for Design. This ‘box’ is cantilevered above the existing college building, and has won numerous awards, but also seems to be popular with students and Torontonians alike – a serious effort was made to include all the major stakeholders in the design, and the playfulness of the structure seems to have won everybody over.

At the other side of the park is the Art Gallery of Ontario. In the photo below you can see the original buildings, from the 1840s and 1885, and above it the South Gallery, designed by Frank Gehry,  with its protruding spiral staircase and blue glass and titanium panels. The gallery is surprisingly integrated inside, but looks almost shocking from the outside – the blue panels remind me of tarpaulins and seems to give the whole thing a rather unfinished look.

At the corner of the Art Gallery of Ontario, I found this chap.

He is constructed entirely from old leather sofas.

The artist, Brian Jungen, was inspired by the story of a circus elephant called, inevitably, Jumbo, who was killed by a train in Ontario in 1885. The work is called Couch Monster: Sadzěʔ yaaghęhch’ill. ‘Couch monster’ refers to the breaking of the animal’s spirit that is required to make it work in a circus – it becomes a ‘monster’ created by human beings for their own entertainment. Sadzěʔ yaaghęhch’ill comes from the Dane-zaa language of the Athebascan Native Canadians, and means ‘my heart is ripping’, speaking to the sadness and cruelty of keeping  living beings in captivity. I was very moved by this diminished creature, balancing on its little legs on a ball, wrinkled and powerless.


It just goes to show that you never know what’s around the corner in Toronto!

Critters in the City

Dear Readers, whenever I come to downtown Toronto, I am amazed at both how urban it is, and how a variety of creatures are still making it their home. Unlike London or New York, Toronto has no substantial parks or greenspaces in its core, and this can make it feel rather oppressive to me, especially on a dull, grey day. I suspect that maybe Torontonians feel the same way, because since I first started visiting here, there has been an absolute boom in dog ownership. Maybe this is the pandemic effect, maybe it’s the growth in the number of apartments, but there are small (and a few large) dogs everywhere. This beagle was visiting a coffee shop that we were sitting in (Versus, which is on Adelaide East – highly recommended) and I loved the way that he never took his eyes away from the door as he waited for his owner. He’s not the youngest of dogs, and I always find canine devotion very moving.

What really impresses me about Toronto (and I may have mentioned this last year) is that it has much higher sparrow numbers than inner London does. Maybe some of the blighted and decrepit buildings that are waiting for demolition all over the city are providing a place for these social little creatures to nest. A small flock visited the outside terrace of the coffee shop (largely because another couple cradling a small white fluffy dog were eating pastries). I am always struck by how energetic these birds are, and how ready to take up every opportunity. Proper city dwellers, in other words. I always think that there is something of the Victorian urchin about them.

And of course there are the feral pigeons, always watchful, and as spring approaches, clearly full of thoughts of ‘love’. All over the city pigeons are bobbing and cooing and chasing females around the pavements, with food as a secondary obsession. The pigeon below was much more interested in the goings on of several birds at ground level than he was in mere croissant crumbs.

And everywhere, the signs of spring, as the dogwood twigs and pine foliage of the winter is pulled out of the displays outside banks and governmental buildings, and the bulbs and blossom burst into flower instead. I could wish that it was a bit drier and a bit warmer, but things are definitely moving on. And for Torontonians I’m sure it can’t come quickly enough.

Back In Toronto, Vertical City….

Dear Readers, so here we are, back in Toronto for a visit to catch up with my husband’s Mum, who is 95 next week and has severe memory problems. Normally we would have caught up with my favourite aunties who lived out in Collingwood, but they both passed away last autumn, so this time it’s a very city-centric visit. Still, I like Toronto, though they can’t seem to leave anything alone – every year there are more skyscrapers, more building sites and more cranes.

It has always been a bit of a vertical city – there are spires aplenty.

This is the Metropolitan United Church, one of the largest churches belonging to the United Church of Canada. It was built in 1872 in a neo-gothic style, and houses a carillon of no less than 54 bellths, which probably explains why I can hear it from my hotel room. It also has Canada’s largest pipe organ. It’s been cleaned up recently, and the yellow stone is really rather fetching.

In the grounds I noticed this tree – its bark is so pale that at first I thought it was a eucalyptus, but no, it’s a London plane, and clearly Toronto must have had extremely high temperatures and /or drought over the past few years for it to lose so much bark.

And here are some angels, just for luck.

Just down the road is St Michael’s Catholic Church, another fine building. Construction started in 1845, in gothic revival style. The building contains fragments of a pillar and some pieces of the roof from York Minster in the UK, sealed into the cornerstone – Toronto was known as York when it was first founded in 1793.

All in all though, the speed of building work is really something. There is plenty of what London’s  Gentle Author and Toronto’s Shawn Micallef would call ‘Facadism‘, where just the front wall of a building is retained and all of its substance is demolished.

Some interesting buildings have survived, though I wonder for how much longer – this wooden-clad yellow building has always  fascinated me. It seems to have been everything from a music venue to a shawarma house, and I note that in 2021 there was a campaign on Facebook to save it. Now, it seems to be closed so things don’t look good.

Our favourite bookshop in Toronto, Ben McNally, has found yet another new home, so I’m expecting to make a visit early next week.

And finally, how about these? They’re used to designate the bike lanes in the city, and are hated every bit as much by drivers as the various bollards that are used in London. These have been painted by various artists, and I particularly like the centipede one (surprise surprise). See what you think.

Old Bugwoman’s Almanac – May Updated

Fledgling starling

Dear Readers, can it nearly be May already? There are lots of exciting things going on, including a whole raft of events and a rather interesting exhibition at the British Library (see below). 

Dear Readers, there is so much going on in May that it’s positively dizzying – all that preparation during March and April should, in a good year, have led to the emergence of fledglings all over the country during May, when insect numbers should be at their height. In my garden there’s the familiar wheezing of starling fledglings, and the first shrieks of swifts overhead. The pond will hopefully be full of tadpoles, and the hedgerows will be bursting with cow parsley. It’s a great month for the naturalist and the flaneur, and it seems to me to be the most hopeful month of the year.

Cow parsley in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Things to Do

  • This is a great month for exploring parks and local green spaces – there’s something going on wherever you look. And if you have the time to survey an area for bumblebees for about an hour every month (and May is a great month to start) you could contribute to the research for Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s Beewalk project. I am seriously thinking about doing this this year.  Ideally this should start in March, so I might include it in the March Almanac post that will appear at the end of February.
  • For those of us who don’t have a garden, Chelsea Physic Garden is hosting a talk on ‘The Indoor Garden’ with Jade Murray. Lots of people began to realise how wonderful house plants were during lockdown, but this sounds like a great course on how to really understand how to look after these organisms with their complex and varied requirements.
  • The London Natural History Society has a botanical expedition to Kensal Green Cemetery on Saturday 27th May – I imagine that this will be a great opportunity to examine the plants in this unique location.
  • The free virtual talk offered by the LNHS in May is on the restoration of Hainault Forest – I used to live quite close to this area, so I shall probably watch this one. All talks are recorded if you can’t make the actual date(19.00 on Thursday 11th May), and are available on the LNHS’s Youtube channel.
  • This exhibition at the British Library, called Animals – Art, Science and Sound looks absolutely fascinating, and there are some great events, including some in late April. Note that there are some ‘pay what you can’ days, which is a great idea in these stretched times. 

Plants for Pollinators

The RHS is suggesting nettle-leaved bellflower for this month, which surprised me a little until I realised that this species has two bees of its own – the bellflower blunthorn bee (Melitta haemorrhoidalis) and the small scissor bee (Chelostoma campanularum). Goodness! Both these species will apparently shelter inside the flowers of this plant, and the small scissor bee actually mates in there as well. Who knew?

The plant looks extremely pretty, and it’s a native, so it will be no hardship to grow it if I can find some somewhere. The name ‘trachelium’ comes from a belief that the plant could be used to cure a sore throat.

Nettle-leaved bellflower (Campanula trachelium)

The bee itself is one of those inconspicuous little solitary bees that goes about pollinating our flowers without being noticed. Apparently it will also visit other kinds of bellflowers, but the nettle-leaved species is the one that it loves the best.

Small scissor bee (Photo by Lukas Large at

Other valuable plants in flower now include bird’s foot trefoil, Californian Lilac (Ceanothus), Comfrey, Rosemary, Hawthorn and, for hoverflies, the ubiquitous cow parsley.

Bird Behaviour

  • Well, it’s all going on in May! As already noted, the swifts should have arrived by mid-May, the starling fledglings are out by the end of the month and all sorts of other young birds will be putting in an appearance, including blackbirds, robins and many young finches and tits.
  • Swallows and house martins (and swifts) will be returning to the nests that they occupied last year, so long as some anti-social householder hasn’t taken them down because they are ‘too messy’ (don’t get me started). If you’re very lucky, you might see house martins gathering beakfuls of mud to patch up their existing homes, or to start new ones if it’s their first time breeding.
  • Long-tailed tits will have finished making those beautiful nests that we talked about in a previous post, but they do have a habit of making them in places that are too conspicuous – I found one nest low down in a shrub in a well-used Islington Square, full of dogs and squirrels and ever-watchful magpies. Interestingly, if a nest fails, the couple may assist another couple in provisioning their youngsters – often all the birds in an area are related, so it makes sense to help out Mum and Dad, or your siblings. The ‘helper’ birds will then join the flock in the winter, which is a great advantage when it comes to finding food. Long-tailed tits are the only British birds that cooperate in this way, and it makes me love them even more than I already did, if such a thing is possible.
    • Fledgling long-tailed tits in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery
    • Plants in Flower
    • It might be easier to list what isn’t in flower in May, but just to add to the list above, the lilac should be in flower, tulips should be busting forth along with the purple Sputnik flowers of alliums, the first foxgloves will be full of bumblebees, sweet woodruff and bluebells are amongst the last of the spring ephemerals to flower, elderflowers are just asking to be made into cordial, marigolds are adding a welcome touch of orange, and the air is heavy with the feral smell of hawthorn (or May blossom if you prefer). In the cemetery the new arrivals for May include red campion and germander speedwell, red clover and wood avens, and the mysterious salsify flowers that pop up every year, having come from goodness only knows where.
    • Horse chestnut trees should be in flower, always an impressive sight with their ‘candles’ of blossom.

Germander speedwell


Other Things to Watch/Listen Out For

    • This is prime cuckoo time. I grew up hearing these birds in Wanstead Park every single year, but these days I’m most likely to hear them in Austria.
    • The fox cubs are a lot noisier and more boisterous in May, though they are still unlikely to move far from the earth unless they’re disturbed and their mother moves them.
    • In the pond, the large red damselflies will be emerging, followed by the azure damselflies a few weeks later. If we’re lucky, we might get a visit from a ‘proper’ dragonfly, such as a broad-bodied chaser.

Large red damselflies mating

  • If the last few years are anything to go by, the buddleia will be smothered in greenfly, and the ladybird larvae and even some of the birds (goldfinches, sparrows and blue tits in particular) will be feasting on them. The honeydew will be raining down so much that it glues the lid of the wheelie bin shut. Sigh.
  • The full moon will be on the 5th May, and is known as the Mother’s Moon or the Bright Moon.

Holidays and Celebrations

  • 1st May is Beltane, and International Workers Day, so there are plenty of excuses for having fun
  • 7th May is International Dawn Chorus day, keep your eyes open for crack-of-dawn walks in your local woodland (or sit in the garden with a cup of tea as it’s getting light and drink it all in)
  • 14th May is Rogation Sunday, and also the day for ‘Beating the Bounds’ – we did this around Coldfall Wood last year, and great fun it was too!
  • In the UK the first and last Mondays in May are Bank Holidays, but this year the 8th May is also a Bank Holiday in honour of King Charles III’s coronation. Bank Holidays are like buses just lately, you wait for five months for one and then three come along at once (not that I’m complaining).


The Rescuer

Purseweb Spider (Atypus affinis) (Photo By Siga – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Dear Readers, I am a regular reader of the British Arachnological Society newsletter – as you can imagine this is generally a detailed and complicated read, but every so often there’s a story that I can identify with, and which reassures me that there are people out there who are every bit as concerned about their local wildlife as I am.And so it was with delight that I read the report from Hilary Grant, who lives in Jersey and who seems to spend a lot of time rescuing animals that have fallen into her swimming pool. She reports that in 2017, while looking out for newts who needed to be moved on from the pool to a more suitable habitat, she found her first purseweb spider males who had gone for an involuntary swim.

Purseweb spiders are found in many parts of Europe and southern England, and are the only European members of the trapdoor spider family. These are long-lived spiders, and have a most interesting life history. They create a tube web that is partially hidden underground, with the above-ground portion covered in leaves and debris. When an unsuspecting insect stands on the silk and becomes trapped, the spider leaps out, bites through the silk and drags the insect underground to eat it in peace. The spiders do not normally leave their tubes for any reason, except that in the autumn the males leave the safe haven of their tubes and try to find a female – sexual maturity usually takes at least four years. When the male finds a female, he will enter her burrow and the two live together until the male dies soon after mating. Then the spiderlings hatch, and they stay in the burrow with their mother for at least another year.

And so, the spiders that Grant was seeing were clearly on the march, and eventually she identified that they were coming to or from a colony in a flowerbed about 25 metres from the swimming pool. Feeling sorry for all the spiders who appeared to be drowned, she started fishing them out and putting them in  a flowerpot filled with kitchen paper. To her surprise, many of them revived – on one occasion she rescued five, and all five of them were ‘resurrected’, although a haul of eleven spiders resulted in only two surviving. One spider took a full 24 hours to revive, but still made a full recovery. It’s interesting to know that these spiders can survive total immersion in presumably chlorinated water for a period of time.

Grant suggests that, because the spiders live underground, they may have developed mechanisms that enable them to survive the occasional inundation that they must surely suffer – she points out that most spiders drown very quickly, with a heavy downpour being enough to kill even a largish spider. It got me to thinking about occasions when I’ve rescued caterpillars – I’ve found that the absorbent quality of kitchen paper helps to ‘pull’ the water out of the breathing tubes, or spiracles, which is how insects breathe. Spiders have an apparatus called a book lung, which opens on the underside of the abdomen, so I wonder if the paper has a similar ‘blotting’ effect on these structures.

The reaction of the spiders, on reviving, was either to hide in the folds of the kitchen paper or to attempt to ‘dig’ their way out – those enormous ‘jaws’ (known as chelicerae) have been likened to pick-axes. Indeed, Grant mentions that the only time she was ‘attacked’ by a purseweb spider was when she was carrying one to safety, and he ‘bit’ her  (though he was unable to pierce the skin) – she now realises that he was just testing the ‘ground’ of her hand in order to dig his way out of trouble.

I love this story for many reasons – firstly, because Grant is clearly a compassionate person who doesn’t want the spiders in her garden to suffer unnecessarily. Secondly, she has a spirit of scientific curiosity that I can empathise with. And finally, she has a sense of humour that I find most appealing – she describes one spider as ‘doing a very lively breaststroke’, and another as ‘ a grumpy individual’. I find her most inspiring, and hope that she continues to report on her spiders so that we can all see what they’re up to next.


This Could Become a Habit….

Dear Readers, as you know for the past week I have been spending fifteen minutes, three times per day, sitting in the garden counting bees for my OU project. And I rather think I’m going to carry on sitting outside for fifteen minutes at least once per day, even after I’ve collected all my data, because it does me so much good. Even when it’s cold and windy and starting to rain there’s always something to see, be it the magpies arguing in the whitebeam or the blue tits telling off a cat, or just a goldfinch singing silhouetted against the sky.


And another one

It’s been interesting watching the flowering currant gradually going over as well (and the windy weather hasn’t helped) – from the peak of perfection last week, many of the flowers are now on their last legs, and the bees are moving on to the white lilac that’s coming into bloom. It’s not often that we have the time to actually watch the ebb and flow of the natural world, but this week has felt like a gift, a chance to watch things changing from one hour to the next.

And then there’s the pleasure of the bees themselves. Hairy-footed flower bees are really fast, buzzy little things, and they sometimes fly about with their tongues out, as if to make sure that they don’t waste any time at all.

Male hairy-footed flower bee

Female hairy-footed flower bee

And so, however busy you are, I would highly recommend finding at least fifteen minutes (and preferably more) to sit in the garden or outside in the park, and just watch the world go by. There is no greater balm for the agitated mind or the distracted soul, and even if the wind is strong enough to blow your hat off, or the rain is dampening your enthusiasm, you’ll still feel much more connected and alive (and glad of a cup of coffee) when you get back inside.

The flowering currant.