Round and round the apple tree

By coincidence, my last couple of posts have been about Scandinavia, snow and ice, and ovicaprids. I’m not going to manage to shake free of all of those in this post either …

Filedfare. Photo by Arnstein Rønning.

Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris). Photo by Arnstein Rønning.

We woke this morning to a terrific hard frost. The countryside is white; the trees are white; it is gorgeous. It’s not quite so gorgeous inside our bedroom, where there was ice on the inside of the windowsone of the joys of living in a 300 year old cottage with all its draughts and dampness and ill-fitting doors and windows.

We call one of the gardens next to ours ‘the secret garden’. Not so much because it is hidden, but because no-one uses it. The cottage to which it belongs is rented, and none of the tenants in the last few years has shown any interest in it. Contract gardeners come and cut the grass about four times a year, and that’s it. We can see into the garden from our bedroom dormer window. There is an alder tree which has grown from a small sapling when we arrived in 1992 to a large, two-trunked tree; there is an old ruined cottage or barn or outbuilding, the stone walls of which survive to about a metre or so high and are gradually being covered by brambles; and there is a venerable old apple tree. The apple tree always fruits prodigiously, and because no-one uses the garden, the apples stay where they fall. They provide welcome food for wildlife in the winter months.

This morning the apples were providing a frosty feast for about nine or ten blackbirds (Turdus merula), a grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), and a single fieldfare (Turdus pilaris). Fieldfare are a palaearctic species, living in more northerly latitudes in the summer and heading south in the winterour fieldfare come from Scandinavia. Normally they travel in flocks, so it is always surprising to see a lone one. This one was vigorously defending its food, spending more time chasing all the blackbirds away than it was eating. Watching them, I could almost hear the Benny Hill Show theme tune in my head as the fieldfare scooted round and round the apple tree in hot pursuit of a blackbird.

Play nicely, children. Photo by Dave Jackson.

Play nicely, children. (This is a small fieldfare as an adult fieldfare is quite a bit larger than an adult blackbird). Photo by Dave Jackson.

I would love to have seen this many!

Update 4 January 2015: A week on and the fieldfare is still with us. He sits in one of the higher beech trees that surrounds the secret garden, and swoops down to chase off larger interlopers who are getting too close to his precious stash of slowly-rotting apples. He tolerates the smaller birds such as chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs) and dunnocks (Prunella modularis) and blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla), but is aggressive in his pursuit of the blackbirds. Even larger birds like jackdaws (Corvus monedula) get the ‘get orf moi laaaand’ treatment from him (or should that be written in a Scandinavian rather than a West Country accent?)

Update 29 November 2016: The fieldfare stayed for about a month, leaving the day our neighbours on the other side of the secret garden started having some very noisy chainsaw work done on their trees. We didn’t see him in winter 2015, but this morning we woke to a hard frost and a lone fieldfare guarding the apple tree in the secret garden. Is it the same bird? I’d like to think so ….

Straw goats and arson: the Gävle Goat

Every now and then I find a quirky little article on Wikipedia that captures my imagination or fires me up or makes me go ‘Whaaat?’ or just makes me smile. I love quirky stuff. And the Gävle Goat (Gävlebocken in its native Swedish) is certainly that.

The in snow, 18 December 2014. From the

The Gävle Goat in snow, 18 December 2014. Photo from the Gävle Goat Twitter account.


The Gävle Goat as pictured on the webcam, 11.49 am Swedish time on 22 December 2014. Still here!

Every year, a giant version of the traditional Yule Goat is erected in the Swedish city of Gävle, in time for Advent. And every year, people try to burn the goat down.

The Gävle Goat is made of straw, is 13 m tall, 7 m long and weighs 3.6 tonnes. The first Goat was built on 1 December 1966, and was burned down on New Year’s Eve that year, starting a tradition of festive caprine arson. Since then the Goat has been protected by a fence, been given security guards and in 1996 a webcam was installed. But despite all this, the arson and other attacks on the Goat continue.

It has been hit by a car, kicked to pieces (several timesthat’s some dedicated kicking), hit by fireworks, attacked by Santa Claus and the Gingerbread Man, scaled by drunks, collapsed due to sabotage, and of course burned, a total of 27 times. One year in particularly cold weather the guards popped into a nearby restaurant to warm up, and almost inevitably they weren’t the only thing that warmed upthe arsonists struck in their absence.

Photo by Apeshaft.

The Gävle Goat of 2009. Photo by Apeshaft.

There have been Goat Wars between the two rival goat-building groups, international attacks on the Goat (a Norwegian was arrested and an American jailed for attacking the Goat), and bribery attempts on the guards, who were asked to turn a blind eye to a planned theft by helicopter (Yes. Seriously).

One that didn't make it ... the 1998 Photo by Adent.

One that didn’t make it … the 1998 Gävle Goat. Photo by Adent.

You can watch the Goat on its dedicated webcam, at least until it is burned down or if it survives, is dismantled some time after Christmas. And this being the age of social media, of course the Goat has a blog and a Twitter account

Update 29 December 2014: The Goat is being dismantled as I type: apparently it is off to China, where the Year of the Goat starts on 19 February. Sad to see it go, but at least it survived this year! Hurrah!

Mmmm, comfy: Part 3

This was taken about ten years ago, when Hecate (aka The Humbug, Wabsy, The Piglet, Heckington Schmeckworth, The Wabulizer, Heckers, Tubsy, and any number of other nicknames) was fairly young and keen on finding herself comfy, already-warmed nesting spots …

She only did this a couple of times, but luckily I was on hand to record it. I don’t know whose dignity comes off worse—Hecate’s, or Chap’s. I mean, look at those slippers …

Hecate in her pant hammock. Mmmm, comfy.

Hecate in her pant hammock. Mmmm, comfy.

The hitchhiker

This little news report struck me the other day. A Cape genet (Genetta tigrina), a kind of small carnivorous mammal related to civets and mongooses, has been recorded in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in South Africa hitching rides at night on the backs of buffalo and rhinoceroses. The photographs, taken by camera-traps, showed that on one night he hitched a ride on two separate buffalo and on a rhino!

He even has his own twitter account: the wonderfully groan-worthy GenetJackson.


Genet atop a buffalo …




… and a rhino






Experts at the park have established that it is the same genet in all the images. The Director of the Park, Dr Simon Morgan, has offered an explanation for the behaviour:

“We are not sure what is happening here. Looking at the photos you can see that in some the genet is literally going along for a ride, while in a few others the genet is near the head and could be picking ticks of the animals’ ears perhaps? It could be similar behaviour to cattle egrets which go for a ride and wait for the large animal to flush insects, so in this case the genet could be using this vantage point to spot small prey items being flushed by the buffalo or the rhino.”

Cape genet (Genetta tigrina). Photo by Jana.

Cape genet (Genetta tigrina). Photo by Jana.

Favourite websites: Kittenwar

Kittenwar is another of my favourite websites. It’s a real time sink if you are a cat lover (like me): once you start looking it’s hard to stop.

Basically photos of two kittens/cats are shown side by side, and they ‘do battle’ as you vote for the cutest. The ‘winningest’ kittens and their stats are listed (hint: take a photo with your kitten’s paws and tubby tummy in full shot and you’re in with a chance), as are the ‘losingest’ (hint: if you have a sphinx or angular-headed Siamese, your darling is going to be on this list …)

I put up a photo of one of our two fudsies, Ballou, on 12 January 2006, and in those eight and a half years she has done battle 4,235 times. Her stats are a pretty steady 49% won, 39% lost and 13% drawn. I think she’s the cutest thing ever in the photo I entered, but that’s because I know she’s enjoying having her ears rubbed and is not being tortured, as it rather looks like …

Ballou. Kittenwar warrior. Not being tortured, honest.

Ballou. Kittenwar warrior. Not being tortured, honest.

Mmmm, comfy: Part 2

Here’s Ballou. I know it looks like she’s being tortured, but she’s zenning out while she’s having her ears scratched. This photo was taken about 9 years ago, and she hasn’t sat like this since. Strange creature. I love the way she looks like she’s kicking back in an easy chair—beer and takeaway just out of shot to the right.

Ballou. Not being tortured, honest.

Ballou. She was enjoying this, honest.


I have just acquired four vintage Danish 830 silver spoons dating from the 1930s and 1940s for my Etsy shop. They all have maker’s marks, and I have identified three of the makers: Carl M Cohr, Christian Knudsen Hansen and W & S Sørensen, but the fourth, ‘H.V.J’, has so far eluded my attempts at identification.

Carl M Cohr 830 silver spoon, 1935.

Carl M Cohr 830 Danish silver spoon, 1935.

Chrstian Knudsen Hansen 830 silver spoon, 1939.

Christian Knudsen Hansen 830 Danish silver spoon, 1939.

W & S Sørensen 830 silver spoon, 1940s.

W & S Sørensen 830 Danish silver spoon, 1940s. (NOW SOLD).

'H.V.J' 830 silver spoon, 1940s.

‘H.V.J’ 830 Danish silver spoon, 1940s.

The last spoon in particular made me think of the old joke:

Two posh ladies (think Dowager Duchess) are talking, back in the 1920s.

Posh lady 1: ‘I saw a shocking thing today. A young couple were spooning, in public. The disgrace of it. One didn’t know where to look.’

Posh lady 2: (peers over top of lorgnette) ‘Standards are dropping, my dear. But one should at least be grateful they weren’t forking.’

(Note for younger readers, for whom ‘spooning’ means ‘cuddling up in bed, with your tummy against your partner’s back’: in the early part of the last century, ‘spooning’ meant a very different thing. Those were far more innocent and sexually repressed days. ‘Spooning’ meant the same as ‘canoodling’ – making gooey eyes at each other, holding hands, and perhaps – only perhaps – a kiss on the cheek. A young couple would never be able to spoon as we know it, unless they were married. So that makes the payoff line of the joke even more shocking and risqué for its time.)

UPDATE November 2015: Slightly belated, but I thought I’d add that I now have a lot more Danish silver spoons in my Etsy shop, and more to come! I’m a bit obsessed at the moment …