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The Sunday Quiz – What’s That Soup? – The Answers

Title Photo by cyclonebill from Copenhagen, Denmark, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Gazpacho – a chilled Spanish tomato soup (Title Photo)

Dear Readers, we clearly have some soupmeisters and brothmistresses amongst us, because Fran and Bobby Freelove, Mal and Sara all got an unbeatable 20 out of 20 this week – well done to all of you! I would love to know what your favourite soup is. I have a longstanding fondness for goulaschesuppe (an Alpine speciality which is basically goulash in a soup, as you might have guessed from the name). This was always my first choice after striding up a mountain, but as I am vegan this month I suspect it might be rasam, an Indian tomato and tamarind soup which is great for clearing the sinuses! I know some of you have allotments too, or grow your own vegetables, so I would relish your soup-making adventures.  

Photo One by Joy at https://www.flickr.com/photos/joyosity/15149605670

1) J) Ribolita vii) Northern Italy

Photo Two by By BocaDorada - Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2645024

2) A) Vichyssoise v) France

Photo 3 by By liz west from Boxborough, MA , CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18741185

3) I) Borscht x) Eastern Europe

Photo Four by By robin.norwood CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56508051

4) D) Avgolemeno ix) Greece

Photo Five by By Metukkalihis - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19504960

5) F) Cullen Skink i) Scotland

Photo Six by By Josefine Stenudd from Gothenburg, Sweden - 20070422_2 Fruit soup (Swedish &quot;Varma Koppen&quot;), CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35778950

6) H) Fruktsoppa viii) Scandinavia

Photo Seven by By No machine-readable author provided. Pamri assumed (based on copyright claims). - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=426901

7) E) Rasam ii) India

Photo Eight by By إيان - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=112370678

8) C) Harira iv) North Africa

Photo Nine by By Mateus Hidalgo - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5 br, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2263361

9) B) Caldo Verde vi) Portugal and Brazil

Photo Ten by By jons2 at pdphoto.org - http://pdphoto.org/PictureDetail.php?mat=pdef&pg=7646http://pdphoto.org/jons/pictures/gumbo3bg_122499.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=913167

10) G) Gumbo iii) Southern United States

Photo Credits

Title Photo by cyclonebill from Copenhagen, Denmark, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo One by Joy at https://www.flickr.com/photos/joyosity/15149605670

Photo Two  By BocaDorada – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2645024

Photo Three  By liz west from Boxborough, MA , CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18741185

Photo Four  By robin.norwood CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56508051

Photo Five  By Metukkalihis – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19504960

Photo Six  By Josefine Stenudd from Gothenburg, Sweden – 20070422_2 Fruit soup (Swedish &quot;Varma Koppen&quot;), CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35778950

Photo Seven  By No machine-readable author provided. Pamri assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=426901

Photo Eight  By إيان – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=112370678

Photo Nine  By Mateus Hidalgo – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5 br, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2263361

Photo Ten  By jons2 at pdphoto.org – http://pdphoto.org/PictureDetail.php?mat=pdef&pg=7646http://pdphoto.org/jons/pictures/gumbo3bg_122499.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=913167

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Birthday Walk in the County Roads

Dear Readers, it was my birthday on Thursday, and so I decided to take myself for a celebratory walk around the County Roads in East Finchley. I do love having a wander, with no particular agenda and no hurry, and it’s surprising what you notice when you are just walking along with your camera. The first thing is that although the Christmas trees have been collected in my road, this isn’t the case for everyone, and the residents here have clearly decided that they’ve had enough of having the pavement blocked for weeks on end. The trees will be shredded and used as compost in the municipal parks, but it’s an added task for the refuse collectors, who are already struggling with the fallout from Covid.

What surprises me, though, is the sheer range of plants that are in flower. It’s no surprise that the hellebores are in flower…

…and with the winter-flowering jasmine and winter-flowering cherry the clue is in the name…

Winter-flowering jasmine

Winter-flowering cherry

But there were some violets and fleabane in flower in one of the treepits – this has been pretty all year. I just hope that it escapes the attention of the council weed-sprayer.

Some folk still have their Christmas decorations outside, and very nice they are too. I always admire the house with the glass ornaments peeping out of their plant containers.

There’s a magnificent hebe at the bottom of my street that seems to be in flower for ten months of the year. I had no expectation of seeing any insects today (it’s barely above freezing after all) but there was a magnificent queen buff-tailed bumblebee, almost as long as my first thumb-joint. I was so glad that there was something for her to feed on.

The more I look, and the slower I walk, the more I see. There are some crab apples the colour of apricots, and some others that are blush pink…

There is a cotoneaster just covered in berries…

There is so much colour! The mimosa on the corner of Hertford Road will soon be in flower…

The rosemary is already out..

…and I love the twisted branches on this hazel.

But it isn’t just the plants. The houses on the County Roads in East Finchley are mostly Victorian, but were built by a wide variety of different builders, and over the span of about 80 years. This means that there are a lot of different features. Some houses have tiled porches, for example, and you can often see two or three houses in a row with the same tiles, before the pattern changes. Of course, many have been lost over time, but I love to see the different designs.

Some houses would also have had tiled paths and front steps, but these were subject to a lot of wear and tear. Most have either disappeared or been replaced with more modern versions, but I did spot this one, which looks original to me.

It isn’t just the tiles either. I was struck by the two plaster heads on this pair of houses, and particularly the woman, who has had her lipstick applied. The sunflower detail between the heads is very fine too.

And then I spot this dragon finial on one of the corner houses – corner houses are usually a bit ‘posher’ than the houses in the road itself, and I suspect that they were sometimes built for the builders themselves.

And now I’m extremely chilly and in need of a cup of camomile tea, so home I head. But I need first to check on the bollard on the corner of Leicester Road, which has been knocked over so many times that I’ve lost count. And look, it’s still standing! It feels like a tiny birthday present.

Chaos and Degradation

Dear Readers, you might remember that last week I went to the Garden Centre and bought some crocuses in pots, meaning to pop them into my window boxes. Well, what with one thing and another I forgot to pot them up, and when I remembered, I went out into the garden to see this mess on my garden table. I am not sure who is to blame, but I have a very strong suspicion that the culprit is small, furry and has an inordinate fondness for bulbs, bird seed and the peanuts that are meant to be for the little birds.

Ah well. I’m hoping against hope that the squirrels have taken the bulbs off to bury them somewhere else. It’s my fault for not being more prompt on the potting up front, but then they’ve been known to dig the bulbs out of my window boxes too. I shall pot up whatever bulbs remain, and hope for the best.

In other news, my teasel is having babies. Lots of babies.

And I fear that most of them have planted themselves in my wooden stairs.

It just goes to show that you can’t turn your back on the garden for a second, even in January. The starlings are looking particularly splendid, though – it’s at this time of year that you can really see the ‘stars’ in their plumage.

 

The magpies pop in every morning and afternoon to see what’s going on…

And I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a sudden influx of young blackbirds in the garden. They’re especially visible at dusk and dawn, but none of them are singing yet – it’s a good time for a low profile, I think. And there are lots of these little guys too. Can anyone identify this little chap from the seriously substandard photo below? A virtual round of applause for the first person to post the correct answer in the comments 🙂

 

Wednesday Weed – Millet

Millet

Dear Readers, when I was writing about winter feeding for the birds yesterday, I couldn’t help but remember the millet that we used to feed to our budgerigar when we were children. I’ve eaten it myself too, especially when I was first a vegetarian back in the early ’80s. I remember the health food shops with their sacks of grains and jars of dried beans, the tins of tomatoes and the overwhelming smell of herbal teabags. Back then, being a vegetarian really was a radical thing to do, and people would practically call for an ambulance if you fessed up to being a vegan. How things change! These days the trendiest people are ‘plant-based’ and Marks and Spencer is selling vegan ready meals, and very nice they are too. Maybe it’s time for me to look again at millet.

Millets are grasses, and several species labour under the name. The commonest one is pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), which has been grown since prehistoric times, and comes originally from Africa. What a tough plant it is! It can tolerate drought, high temperatures, high salinity and high acidity. Wheat and barley would both keel over under these conditions, but millet just keeps going. In India it’s made into a flatbread called baajre ki roti .

Photo One by By Vikram Nankani - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82240984

Millet flatbread (Photo One)

In Western Africa, millet is grown alongside sorghum and cowpeas, the three crops together providing an insurance policy in case one of them fails. As millet is high in energy, calcium and protein it’s no wonder that it’s been turned into a fermented drink in Nigeria, Nepal and India,  a porridge in Namibia, and a sweet snack in Hanoi, where the millet is combined with dried coconut.

Photo Two byBy Minh28397 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74894620

Bánh đa kê, a sweet snack from Hanoi (Photo Two)

Furthermore, millet has no gluten, so it’s a very useful food for people with coeliac disease or gluten intolerance. I seem to remember making a kind of porridge with it, with stewed apricots and yoghurt, and very nice it was too. There might even have been some flaked almonds involved.

Anyone would think it was getting close to dinner time 🙂 However, millet can exacerbate thyroid problems, so don’t go completely mad on the millet bread. In fact, goitres and other signs of iodine inefficiencies are widespread amongst people for whom millet is a staple, so it’s definitely a food to eat in smallish quantities (if you have any choice).

Millet is also used as a fodder crop for sheep and cattle. It is what’s known as a C4 plant, which means that it can photosynthesise more efficiently at high temperatures than most plants, and lose water at a much slower rate. Only about 3% of plants photosynthesise in this way, but a C4 grass like millet loses about 277 molecules of water per CO2 molecule fixed, as opposed to 833 molecules of water in a ‘normal’ grass. No wonder this ancient grain has been such a staple right across the dry zones of the world. And no wonder that scientists have been experimenting to try to change rice, which is a ‘normal’ grass, to a C4 plant, which would be much more water-efficient..

Photo Three by By Kaitha Poo Manam - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63290410

Sprouting Millet (Photo Three)

And finally, a poem. Apparently, when Chinese Emperors wanted to know how the ‘common people’ were feeling, they would send people out from the court into the countryside to hear what people were singing. And how universal were the themes that were collected! Conscripted soldiers sang about missing their homes, and about the long, hard marches, and the fact that their clothes were full of holes. But there was also a lament about the tax collectors who would take a proportion of the food that the peasants grew, sometimes leaving the farmers themselves hungry. I think we can take it that the ‘Big rat’ in the poem below is not a rodent.

“Big Rat, Big Rat,” from the Book of Songs

Big rat, big rat,
Do not gobble our millet!
Three years we have slaved for you,
Yet you take no notice of us.
At last we are going to leave you
And go to that happy land;
Happy land, happy land,
Where we shall have our place.

Big rat, big rat,
Do not gobble our corn!
Three years we have slaved for you,
Yet you give us no credit.
At last we are going to leave you
And go to that happy kingdom …

Photo Four by Hari. K Patibanda from https://www.flickr.com/photos/krishnacolor/50262925781

Plum-headed parakeets on millet in India (Photo Four)

Photo Credits

Photo One by By Vikram Nankani – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82240984

Photo Two byBy Minh28397 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74894620

Photo Three by By Kaitha Poo Manam – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63290410

Photo Four by Hari. K Patibanda from https://www.flickr.com/photos/krishnacolor/50262925781

Notes from British Birds, January 2022

Cover of January 2022 issue, showing a picture of Tree Sparrows by Darren Woodhead

Dear Readers, I always read my copy of British Birds magazine with great pleasure, but this month I was especially taken by this illustration showing Tree Sparrows by Darren Woodhead. What a lovely depiction of these birds it is, and especially relevant as an article by Richard Broughton, Jack Shutt and Alexander Lees describes the possible impact of bird feeding on woodland species such as the Willow and Marsh Tits. There is a theory that these rarer tits are being threatened by the year-round feeding that encourages and supports more dominant tit species, such as Blue and Great Tits. In hard winters, the Marsh and Willow Tits, who cache the wild food that they find, will outcompete the commoner species, but if the Blue and Great Tits survive due to our kindness, they will oust the Marsh and Willow Tits during the breeding season by sheer force of numbers. The article is especially concerned about the feeding stations that occur on nature reserves or in woodland areas, rather than gardens, but one suggestion is that providing foods such as millet and cereals will attract more House Sparrows, farmland birds such as Linnets and Redpolls, and, yes, Tree Sparrows.

I don’t think this is a problem where I live – the bird survey that was done in Coldfall Wood didn’t show any Willow or Marsh tits, so I think I’m safe to carry on feeding the Blue and Great tits. I might have a go with some millet though, just to see if anyone else turns up. What’s your experience? I’ve always thought of it as being a low-reward food for the birds, but I know how particular some of them can be.

Photo One by By Sławek Staszczuk (photoss [AT] hotmail.co.uk), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1550036

Marsh tit (Parus palestris) (Photo One)

Another interesting article was on the supplementary winter feeding of wild birds on farms. Three small farms in Oxfordshire planted wild bird seed plots with a mixture of cereal and other crops (including buckwheat and millet), and also scattered seed on field margins. This was done over a period of three years, and showed a remarkable increase in numbers from 2500 in 2016/17 to 3500 by the end of the experiment in 2018/19. It was found that the planted seed plots alone were not sufficient to feed the birds, and that these were usually exhausted by November, which pointed to the need for the scattered seed. Linnets in particular increased greatly in number, from 187 in 2016/17 to 1,370 in 2018/19, but there were also increases in Yellowhammers and a variety of other birds. The authors of the report are strongly in favour of farms providing supplementary feeding: from my perspective, farming has become so much more efficient at taking every last fallen seed from a harvest that it would be good to put something back.

Flock of linnets on grass from January issue of British Birds, photo by Alan Larkman

And finally, in the Notes section there is a story about House Martins in The Gambia. I remember watching these birds preparing for the great flight south when I was in Dorset, and I wondered how on earth these little creatures sustained themselves over such great distances. Well, for one thing they seem to take advantage of the invertebrates that are attracted to the flowers of Mango trees. Clive R. Barlow and Brendan Ringstead report a group of over 100 House Martins flying around just such a tree in the Gunjur Lodge. I love the thought that the birds that will soon be scooping gnats from the skies of southern England refuel en route with all manner of exotic invertebrates above a mango tree. The secret lives of birds never fail to fascinate me.

Photo Two by Tapo Bhuiyan, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Mango trees in flower (Photo Two)

Air Pollution in London

‘Smog City’ – Photo by Matt Brown from https://www.flickr.com/photos/londonmatt/28507511267

Dear Readers, after my wonderful walk in Walthamstow Wetlands yesterday, it was something of a surprise to read that Friday 14th January is predicted to have the highest air pollution in London since March 2018. Londoners are being advised to avoid physical activity, and those with respiratory problems such as asthma are being advised to carry extra inhalers. The pollution is likely to hit Band 10, the highest level on the scale, in Central London.

Part of the reason for the pollution being so high is, ironically, because of the high pressure that is bringing all the lovely sunshine. This area of high pressure is sitting over Western Europe, and because there is practically no wind, the pollution doesn’t get dissipated in the way that it would normally. However, this doesn’t answer the question of why the pollution is so high in the first place.

In London, the main cause of air pollution is road vehicles. Although the Congestion Zone and the Ultra Low Emissions Zones will go some way towards reducing the amount of Nitrogen Oxides (NOX) and particulates, the Mayor Sadiq Khan pointed out earlier this week that car usage in the Capital is back to pre-pandemic levels. London’s roads simply can’t take the volume of traffic, and one estimate puts the cost of the congestion at £5.1 billion per year. Plus, cars moving slowly allow the pollutants to build up in an area. As usual, there is considerable inequality amongst the groups that are most exposed to this pollution, with the poorer inhabitants of London being the ones who suffer the most, as they tend to live closer to main roads. Young children and elderly people are often the most vulnerable, and as many schools are close to busy roads this exacerbates the problem.

Furthermore, I suspect that people who would normally be amenable to cycling or walking in the Capital are less likely to do so if it feels dangerous and polluted. In addition, Transport for London (TfL)has to go cap-in-hand to Central Government every year to get funding, and during the pandemic more and more people abandoned the tube and the buses, and jumped in their cars instead because they felt safer, reducing TfL’s income still further. It’s a tricky situation for sure, and one that requires imagination and creativity to solve.

A study by Imperial College London found that 4,000 Londoners die every year as a result of air pollution. Worldwide, the state of the air that we breathe is a health emergency, but of course the pollution also contributes to climate change. To my mind, the main things that need to change are:

  • People need to be encouraged to use public transport, with safe, clean, frequent, sustainable  and convenient services.
  • Public transport needs to be accessible for those with mobility issues and those with children in prams.
  • There need to be more ways to walk and cycle safely in the Capital
  • We need to protect and enhance our green spaces as they act as a buffer against the worst effects of pollution
  • We need to encourage the uptake of electric cars, and make sure that there is sufficient infrastructure to charge them.
  • We need to look at more car-sharing schemes, both formal and informal, to reduce the number of individual journeys that people make. There are too many vehicles on the road with just one person in them.

It is true that air quality in London has improved greatly since I was young: I remember ‘pea-soupers’ in the 1960s, largely caused by the burning of wood and coal as fuel – ‘smokeless zones’ were set up in the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968. What seems strangest to me, looking back, is that when ‘smog’ was expected, all the schoolchildren were sent home from school, which meant crossing busy roads in dense fog. I’m sure there was some kind of logic behind the action, but it struck me as peculiar even as a little girl. These days, the air looks clean and sparkling for most of the time, but sadly it’s still killing people. I reckon that with a bit of encouragement we can do better.

Nelson’s Column during the Great Smog of 1952 (Photo by N.T.Stobbs)

For more scenes of foggy old London, do have a look at Spitalfields Life for some wonderful examples.

 

Book Review – The Gospel of the Eels by Patrik Svensson

Dear Readers, I have some history with eels. When I was growing up in Stratford in East London, they were not only considered a delicacy when you went to the pie and mash shop (stewed or jellied eels also formed part of the menu), but you could buy them at the local fish shop in Angel Lane (long since buried under the 1960s shopping centre). The eels would be slithering in a white plastic tray, and if you wanted one, the fishmonger would grab one by the tail and chop into pieces in a matter of seconds before wrapping everything up in white paper. Sometimes the bits of fish would have a mind of their own, and would still be moving about in the shopping bag by the time you got home.

Once, I was holding hands with Mum when we both noticed an eel on the verge of wriggling over the edge of the tray. The fishmonger was arguing with a customer about the cost of some shrimps and winkles and so he hadn’t noticed. I glanced at Mum and she squeezed my hand while we both held our breath. The eel made it over the edge, plopped on to the pavement and wriggled away down the drain to safety. I sometimes wonder if the animal made it to the Sargasso Sea, which is where all the eels in the world are said to breed.

And therein hangs the tale told in Patrik Svensson’s wonderful book. It tells the story of what we’ve managed to discover so far about the secret life of eels, part of which is their complex and enigmatic life story. We have, for instance, found tiny baby eels in the region of the Sargasso Sea, but have never found an adult eel. Sigmund Freud spent several months as a student in Trieste, cutting up eels and trying to find a male one, without ever finding any eel testicles. You can deduce many things about his later theories from this period, I’m sure. Rachel Carson, better known for her work on DDT in ‘Silent Spring’ started by writing about the sea and its creatures for The Atlantic magazine. Ely Cathedral in England is named for the eels found in the local fen country, and in Sweden they celebrate an eel festival – Swedish fishermen would pay for their fishing rights in actual eels.

What makes this book more than ‘just’ a natural history book, though, is the way that Svensson interweaves the story of his relationship with his father, as they try out different ways of catching eels, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. He reveals so much about his Dad, and about how he himself grows from a boy to a man. There is much in this book to savour, and much to learn, and lots to think about, not least when Svensson turns to the precarious future of the eel, and thinks about what it means not just for this species, but for all of us.

Is it possible to imagine a world without eels? Is it possible to erase a creature that has existed for at least forty million years, that has survived ice ages and seen continents drift apart, that when humans found their place on this planet had already been waiting for us for millions of years, that has been the subject of so many traditions and celebrations and myths and stories?

No, is the instinctive answer, that’s not how the world works. What exists, exists, and what doesn’t exist is always in some ways unimaginable. Imagining a world without eels would be like imagining a world without mountains or oceans, air or soil, bats or willow trees. 

Yet at the same time all life is changeable, and we will all change one day, and it was probably at one point, at least for a few people, just as difficult to imagine a world without the dodo or without Steller’s sea cow. Just as I couldn’t, once, imagine a world without Nana or Dad. 

And yet they’re both gone now. And the world is still here”.

I heartily recommend this thought-provoking and beautifully-written book. You can buy it in lots of places, and here’s one of them.

 

First Walk of 2022 in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Dear Readers, you might remember that St Pancras and Islington Cemetery has been something of a haven during this past few years, and it’s still one of my very favourite places to walk. Today was a chilly but bright day, with a low, blinding sun, and the hedges and treetops were full of very uncooperative birds. Here, for your delectation, is a photo of a male chaffinch’s backside. You’re welcome.

Not all the birds are quite so shy, though. Close to the chapel/public toilets, there is always a family of rose-ringed parakeets. I suspect that they have already picked out their nesting holes for the season, and seemed to be spending their time picking the buds off of the plane trees, and possibly chewing off twigs for their nests. They look so exotic with their bright-green feathers against the blue sky! They certainly brightened up my day.

The winter heliotrope is in flower – it’s said to have a strong, vanilla-like scent, and if I inhaled very deeply there was something in the air. It’s closely related to the native Butterbur, but is fragrant. It’s taken over a whole area close to the chapel.

Winter heliotrope (Petasites pyrenaicus)

A sea of heart-shaped leaves

And right alongside is the memorial to William French, who lost his life trying to save a dog in Highgate Ponds in 1896. Someone always loving decorates the grave, and I thought the dog was looking particularly fine today, which it should do as apparently it survived. You can read the whole story on the Studied Monuments site here – it’s by Bob Davenport, and I highly recommend it. I shall be looking around for some of Bob’s other featured monuments when I next visit the cemetery.

And finally, I wanted to include a shot of the sun through the yew trees on Harwood’s Path. As usual I was teased by the goldcrests, who are always twittering around here but are never still enough, or close enough, to photograph. Still, it’s always lovely to hear them going about their business. Can spring be far off now? Let’s hope not.

The Twelve Days of Christmas Quiz – The Answers!

The music for ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas (Photo by Grover Cleveland)

Well Dear Readers, first of all congratulations to Mike from Alittlebitoutoffocus, and Fran and Bobby Freelove, who went the distance and managed to complete the whole of the Christmas Quiz, which was quite a marathon this year! Mike got a magnificent score of 43 out of 48, but the winners, with an astonishing 46 out of 48, were Fran and Bobby Freelove, who are clearly champions this year, though Mike, Claire, Sharon, Rosalind and Anne have all given them a bit of a run for their money during the year. And a special mention to Sharon, who got 100% for her answers on French domestic animals on Day Three. Thanks to everyone who’s taken part during the year, and normal Quiz service will be resumed on Sunday next week.  

Here are the answers to the Christmas Quiz.

Question One

The Photo is of The Partridge Family, a popular show when I was growing up, not least because of David Cassidy, a real teen idol.

Question Two

Turtle doves are called turtle doves because of their call, which sounds a bit like ‘tur, tur’.

Question Three

Photo 1) is C, a Bleue du Nord cow

Photo 2) is A, a Baudet de Poitou donkey

Photo 3) is B, a Percheron horse.

Question Four

1) C) – a red-winged blackbird

2) D) – a great-tailed grackle

3) A) – a common raven

4) B) – a ring ouzel

Question Five

1) Goldcrest

2) Golden Eagle

3) Golden Oriole

4) Goldeneye

5) Golden Plover

Question Six

1)D) Greylag goose

2) B) Brent goose

3) A) Pink-footed goose

4) E) Barnacle goose

5) F) Greater white-fronted goose

6) C) Bar-headed goose

The bar-headed goose is the high-flyer, seen flying over the Himalayas from a plane window.

Question Seven

1) B) – The Black swan is from Australasia (though sometimes now seen in ‘the wild’, having escaped from a wildfowl collection.

2) C) – Black-necked swans are found in South America

3) A) – Trumpeter swans are found in North America (including the chilly parts of Canada) (which is most of it :-))

Question Eight

1) E) Bindweed

2) B) Birdsfoot trefoil

3) A) Cowslip

4) D) Cuckooflower

5) F) Greater stitchwort

6) C) Wood anemone

Question Nine

1) B) – Ladies’ Bonnets is another name for Aquilegia/Columbine

2) E) – Ladies Smock is another name for Cuckooflower

3) A) – Lady’s Locket is another name for Solomon’s Seal

4) F) – The Lady’s Slipper orchid

5) D) – Lady’s Mantle is another name for Alchemilla mollis

6) C) – This is the Autumn Lady’s Tresses orchid.

Question Ten

1) Ring-tailed lemur

2) Red Squirrel

3) Vervet Monkey

4) Springbok

5) Humpbacked whale

6) Verraux’s Sifaka

Question Eleven

1) C) Ruddy Turnstone

2) E) Purple sandpiper

3) D) Whimbrel

4) A) Black-tailed godwit

5) B) Avocet

Question Twelve

The bird ‘drumming’ is the Common Snipe

..Misses….

Dear Readers. there are some plants that other people seem to be able to grow in abundance, but which are a fail in my garden. I’ve always liked the idea of growing some of the single- flowered dahlia varieties because they are so good for pollinators, but they get eaten to death by slugs in the back garden, and blasted to oblivion in the front garden, however often I water them (my front garden is south-facing and gets the sun all day). When I read in the plant catalogues that a particular variety is ‘one of the very best dahlias for pots, flowering without cease for four months at a stretch’ I could cry. I wonder why it is that I always yearn most for the plants that are the most reluctant to be happy in the garden.And in spite of planting numerous bluebells, in the ‘green’ and as bulbs, last year this was the only one that flowered. I know they’re slow to establish, so maybe this year I’ll have two.

English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

I’ve tried this cow parsley relative, Ammi majus, because I thought it might be as shade-tolerant as the ‘real’ cow parsley, but it wasn’t – it grew but was a bit weak and wobbly, put out one sad flower and then capsized. This year I am going to grow some ‘real’ cow parsley (something else that I suspect I’ll never have to plant again), but more of that tomorrow.

Ammi majus (Photo by H.Zell)

I am definitely going to have yet another go with nicotiana this year – I grew a few in pots and they were very popular with the pollinators. Protecting them from the slugs in the garden is another thing altogether, but I refuse to be defeated, especially as the woodland variety is said to be extremely shade-tolerant, smells wonderful and is very attractive to moths.

Nicotiana sylvestris (Woodland tobacco plant) (Photo by H. Storch)

And finally, and most surprisingly because it grows like a veritable weed in other local gardens, I cannot get Mexican fleabane to thrive. What a pain. It self-seeds in cracks up and down the road, it bursts out of walls, I even have one tiny wild plant growing in the darkest part of the alley by the side of my house, but give it tender loving care and what should be an ideal position and, in my garden at least, it expires like La Dame aux Camellias in the opera. Ox-eye daisies do something similar – when we first moved into the house we had a magnificent showing of the plants beside the pond, but after they died back they never appeared again.

Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) (Photo by Forest and Kim Starr)

I have generally been remarkably lucky with my garden – plants often grow in places where they shouldn’t, and many of them are very accepting of my ineptitude. I wonder if every gardener has plants that ‘should’ thrive in their gardens, but which just refuse to ‘take’? And do they become the plants that the gardener most wants to succeed with, or does it make more sense to accept it and move on to something that will be happy? Let me know your personal experience, dear readers – gardening is definitely a learning experience, and a communal one too.