Monthly Archives: February 2017

The not-so-funny ha-ha

One of the worrying consequences of Donald Trump’s Great Wall will be its effect on wildlife. A recent piece in Scientific American mentioned that wolves, ocelots and even jaguars have been seen along the existing border walls. “Environmental groups say that migration corridors are crucial for the recovery and survival of wildlife along the border”, declares the article.

The piece also mentions the fact that architects have referred to the wall as a “pharaonic project”. It’s as though Trump, like the Pharaohs and their pyramids, sees it as his right to build a vast structure to memorialise his reign as supreme leader of the USA; indeed, it’s almost as though he feels he now owns the USA.

And it’s only natural to want to protect one’s property, of course. Somehow I doubt whether Mr. Trump is too concerned about the ramifications of his proposed barrier for border wildlife, given his apparent lack of concern about environmental issues generally.

But, funnily enough, when I read the Scientific American article my mind drifted back to a school trip … and a day when I learned that some people need to keep animals out of their territory.

Every summer, two or three coachloads of boys and girls aged around ten would set off from our school to visit various places of historic or cultural interest – museums, wildlife parks, a picturesque place at the seaside. I remember a wonderful afternoon’s rock-pooling in Aberavon, for instance – that kind of thing. Isn’t rock pooling fun, by the way? It’s enjoyed all over the world, as here by some young people in New Zealand.


On this particular occasion, we visited a large and quite ancient stately home.

Our guide was very knowledgeable but regrettably her pronounced stutter was the cause of a great deal of giggling by our young party, much to our teacher’s embarrassment and annoyance. There was a very fine collection of p-p-p-paintings, for instance. And I remember that she showed us the underground i-i-i-ice house, which, intriguingly, was where food was kept fresh through the winter.

Owners of stately homes in England and (as in this case) Wales have used a variety of methods to keep out intruders. But not all intruders are of the human variety. The incursion of animals, especially deer and sheep, can be a big problem, apparently, which is why the land closest to the house is often surrounded by a long, grassy, wall-backed trench, like this one in Farnley Park, Leeds.


Anyway, as time passed the mirth continued to spread like waves across the gathering, growing with every verbal hiatus, as the poor lady’s face became increasingly flushed and our teacher almost apoplectic with rage. We were a cruel bunch!

haha3But things were about to come to a hilarious climax, as we arranged ourselves along the trench that surrounded the house.

“And this”, announced our guide, “is the house’s h-h-h-h-ha-ha-h-h-ha-ha-ha!” – at which point everyone fell about in complete hysterics.

I’m pleased to report that both our long-suffering guide and the teacher shared in the hilarity, in a small incident that has stayed in my memory ever since.

Image credits: rockpools – By Dhartley (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Ha-ha – Steve Partridge [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Ha-ha wall sign – By Dáibhí Ó Bruadair (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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Filed under History, Humour, Nature, Stately homes and picnics

January 2017 garden diary

The wood pigeons gather daily in a threesome on the apex of the shed roof to court, squabble, kiss, argue and for mutual preening. In the midst of the winter freeze, they’ve started to collect twigs for nest-building. I call that keen.


But in the distance, the unmistakeable call of the sparrowhawk reminds all concerned that the price of life is constant vigilance. When a sparrowhawk is in the area, the cries that can be heard are most often warning messages; but on other occasions they’re the screams of a poor bird being consumed alive by the raptor. pigeon1Nature, as Tennyson famously pointed out in Canto 56 of his epic poem In Memoriam A.H.H., will always be “red in tooth and claw”. For a dove, it may not be too wise to sit out in the open, even if one’s feathers match the colour of the background.

Three grey squirrels use the roof as a runway to the big old horse chestnut tree. These too congregate in threes. It’s fun to watch them scurry at such breakneck speed, around and down, up and across the gnarled branches, where their colouring camouflages them so well that sometimes they seem to make the branches come alive. Although they’ve got their furry coats, I’m sure running helps to keep them extra warm.

The waxy leaves of the spectacular Phormium are equally well covered against the cold – they put on a fine display even in the depths of winter …


… whilst the visual effect of the similarly-enrobed, variegated Holly is more muted, though just as welcome.


In truth there are not too many flowers to be seen at this time of year, in our new garden. We’ve solved the mystery of the bulbs by the foot of the Twisted Willow, though – Snowdrops, of course.


Elsewhere, blossom is just breaking on the ornamental Cherry


… and the Viburnum seems rather coy, slow to establish the anticipated snowstorm of white blooms.


Our Penstemons are looking ‘leggy’, as (being new to the garden) we didn’t get round to pruning them last autumn.


So, it will be interesting to watch as things develop through our first Spring here.

But Summer certainly seems a long way off …



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