Trouble with cars

One of my cousins (English) lives in Melbourne with her husband, (English) and their son (English citizen, US citizen because of being born in Arizona, Australian citizen – fancy having three nationalities!).  Her husband Simon (another Simon, there are a number in the family) was offered a visiting professorship in Lancaster for a couple of years and took it up.  She and their son joined him for a year, in which the rest of the UK had a months long insanely hot and horribly dry but very fine summer, while the folks up in Lancaster somehow or other experienced endless rain and cold.  The suggestion was floated that this move back to the UK might become permanent but neither my cousin nor her son could abide the idea (I don’t think Simon cared for it that much either, but his elderly and frail parents are here).

So Judy and James went back to Melbourne a year ago, and Simon went back to his permanent professorship at Melbourne University at the end of May this year, leaving behind a 12 year old Honda Civic Hybrid, which he offered to me at a ridiculous peppercorn price.

Now prior to this the youngest car I had ever owned was already at least 16 years old at the time of purchase, and back in May this year I was driving a 22 year old VW Polo lacking both central locking and power steering.  So I accepted with delight.  And took possession and started paying (from a position of absolutely flat broke even a peppercorn price is not that easy to manage), and put the Polo up on Facebook where two potential takers failed to take it.

As  my dearest friend was being treated for very recently diagnosed stage 4 cancer, dealing with the sale of the Polo was the last thing on my mind so I took it off the road and uninsured it, and drove the Honda up to North Wales and back several times to see her, enjoying the leather seats, the fact that as a hybrid it was considerably ecologically sounder than my poor little Polo, the decent radio which stayed tuned beyond Newbury (the Polo’s radio just does white noise anywhere further north unless you want very loud pop music) and the good sound system, and the fact that it was divinely comfortable for long trips (it’s an automatic).

Well, Dilys died in mid-June, after a back operation in March which had led to the diagnosis of secondary spinal cancer, followed by two months of ever stronger painkillers but only a week and a half into actual targeted cancer treatment, following a terrifyingly long delay in diagnosis of the primary cancer, which may have possibly contributed to this heartbreaking outcome.   She was 73, just four and a half years older than me.  She was loving, fiercely intelligent, hugely interested in everyone and everything, energetic and courageous and upbeat and a source of absolute joy and inspiration.
She was not ready to die.  I miss her more than I can say.


Meanwhile, cars.

Nothing further to relate about either the Polo or the Honda till a week and a half ago.  The Polo was still off the road and I’d been thinking I really needed to get it sold.  I’d actually valeted it, which was very hard work indeed.

Half term began for me at 7pm on Friday 25th October when I made my escape from work and came home, shattered.   The plan was to spend Saturday at home and then drive up to North Wales on Sunday to stay with Dilys’s husband, and then go on to my Mum in Yorkshire.

At 9pm I decided to head off for bed and was in my bedroom when I heard a colossal crash outside.  I looked out and there was a car in immediate contact with the Honda.  So I rushed downstairs and out, into cold rain, to find a scene of devastation.  A dark green Mercedes was lying diagonally, rear in the road, front half mounted onto the pavement and the other half smashed into a Volvo.  (In the picture below, taken the next morning, it had been moved, probably by the police, so as not to be projecting into the road.)  The rear of the Merc was a disaster.  So was the bonnet.


The Volvo was sandwiched between the Merc and my Honda; it and the Honda were lying crushed nose to nose.  My Honda had evidently been shunted backwards and a blue Skoda was lying diagonally some distance behind it, having also been shunted but luckily not damaged, as it was quite light and there was nobody parked behind it so it was just bounced out of position.


The driver and vehicle which had engineered this multiple car pile-up were nowhere to be seen, as the driver had failed to stop.  Luckily there was a witness who said it was a white transit van.  Even more luckily, as all of the cars were parked (legally, safely…) and empty, nobody was hurt.  With the possible exception of the van driver who, I fervently hope, has extremely bad whiplash.  A business-owned Ford transit damaged in exactly the right place to be the guilty vehicle was photographed the next day in an adjacent street, so fingers very tightly crossed..

The Skoda got driven away and I didn’t get the details so I assume it was ok.  All the remaining three cars are, from an insurance point of view, write-offs.  That’s quite an achievement, isn’t it; write off three parked cars and drive away.  I’m currently trying to get mine repaired, assuming that all the parts can be obtained.  The radiator is a gonner, so is the front bar of the chassis; the bonnet needs hammering back into shape, the front panel with the registration number will have to be replaced, and then there are all the little bits and pieces that join all the separate bits up together.  Will it happen?  Will the insurance company pay me enough for it to be affordable?

So I’m back to the Polo.  Thank goodness I hadn’t sold it.   I finally made it away from home on Wednesday, so I couldn’t go up to Wales; I went straight up to Yorkshire, and came home yesterday, dumped my luggage and drove to the supermarket to get some groceries, where  I locked myself out of the car!   You can’t actually lock yourself out of the Honda, it has central locking so without the key in your hand, it can’t be done.  But it’s as easy as pie with the Polo – just throw your handbag onto the passenger seat and lock the door!  Ever felt stupid?   Ever felt really REALLY stupid?

All is now well; I walked through the rain to my friend’s, who is a key holder for me, and then walked back home through the rain, fed the cat and called the AA, who rescued me by opening the car with an Ingenious Device.

But it feels like there must be a third thing waiting to happen.  Please not!



Shaggy Parasol Mushrooms

I went up to Yorkshire last Wednesday to visit my mum, and came back home yesterday.  On Saturday my brother Simon and his wife Christine came over.  Simon promptly took himself off on a startlingly extended tour of the house and garden (which may have also included a visit to the neighbouring farm), and came back a good hour later saying that there was a clump of mushrooms growing in the (ex) vegetable garden where the grass cuttings get dumped when the lawn is mowed.  So naturally I had to go and have a look, which I didn’t do till they’d left, as Simon and I had the task of building a new armchair for mum which had arrived in bits in a very large cardboard box.  (We were successful.)


There was indeed a big clump of gorgeous looking mushrooms – big, thick, heavy looking mushrooms.  I picked a large one so I could research what it was and after a lot of internet searching settled on its being a Shaggy Parasol of which Wikipedia has this to say:

Shaggy parasol
Chlorophyllum rhacodes LC0093.jpg
Scientific classification
Species complex:
Chlorophyllum rhacodes complex
Chlorophyllum rhacodes
View the Mycomorphbox template that generates the following list

Mycological characteristics

gills on hymenium
cap is umbonate or convex
hymenium is free
stipe has a ring
spore print is white
ecology is saprotrophic
edibility: choice but not recommended

Shaggy parasol is the common name for three closely related species of mushroom, Chlorophyllum rhacodes (or rachodes), C. olivieri and C. brunneum, found in North America, Europe and Southern Africa (the latter species is also found in Australia).


Those few of my already very small and select group of readers who understand all of the above terminology are to be congratulated; me, I’m slowing working on it.
The good news is that the Shaggy Parasol (which, for the sake of argument, I will assume is C. rhacodes) is edible, (like its close relative, the Parasol mushroom Macrolepiota Procera).


I think they are absolutely beautiful.

For identification purposes, you need to check that it turns red when cut or torn  and that the gills are creamy white, and that the spore print is white.  If you are in the US, there is a great danger of confusing it with another very similar mushroom.
Young C. Rhacodes is very similar indeed to C. Molybdites, (aka false parasol, green-spored Lepiotavomiter) whose third name graphically illustrates what it does to the human digestive system when ingested.  C. Molybdites has whitish-green gills and a green spore print and does not turn red when cut or torn.

The good news for all us Europeans is that C. Molybdites is not found in Europe.  One specimen has apparently been found in  one venue in the UK, a glasshouse in Scotland (presumably imported from the US with some vegetation, I assume, such as a sapling – ?).

So everyone here heave a sigh of relief and go ahead and eat C. Rhacodes.  With a certain amount of caution initially – you don’t want to end up with anaphylaxis (I’ve had this, I know what I’m talking about) and the only way to find out if you are allergic to it is to try it.   So start small.

I threw away the one which I’d picked for identification purposes, but onto my mum’s compost heap in the back garden, hoping the spores would find this a friendly environment.   And then on Sunday I picked two more, the two above.  I didn’t dare cook them for Mum and me, in case they upset her stomach (despite her age, 96, she has the stamina and digestion of a horse but I absolutely did not want to be the  person responsible for her demise through the ill-advised ingestion of an untried mushroom).

I brought the two pictured above home with me and cooked the smaller one yesterday evening, stewing it very gently in olive oil for absolutely ages to ensure that it was thoroughly cooked.  I ate a really small quantity of it, and woke up alive and well this morning (well, I had a sore throat because of getting cold and wet last night, but that’s another story).

Not having died overnight, I ate the rest of the stewed mushroom cold with a slice of bread to mop up the olive oil (an unusual way of serving it, perhaps, but very delicious) about an hour ago and am going to cook the large one tonight. Photo on 05-11-2019 at 17.31 #2.jpgPhoto on 05-11-2019 at 17.30.jpg

As you can see, when I say large, I mean large!  I reckon this one is about a foot high and about 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter.  You can also see how much it has opened since I photographed it on Sunday evening two days ago.

Apparently the only use for the stems, which are pretty tough, is in stock for flavouring.  So I shall deposit the stem of this one, plus its bulbous earthy bit at the bottom (which may have a name but if it does I don’t know it) somewhere unobtrusive in the garden where I hope it will have a few spores adhering to it and will settle.  And of course there is the clump up in Yorkshire, which will presumably be going strong next weekend, when I’m up again.   So now we have a new source of mycoprotein, free, gratis and all for nothing.  I love foraging!


Wild Greens in the Hungry Gap mark 2

So last night acting on what I’d been thinking about, I went out into my garden and looked at the weeds.  There were countless young cleavers plants of which I harvested  about 15.

.Galium aparine b.jpg

“Galium aparine, (‘aparine’ from Greek ‘apairo’ – “lay hold of” or “seize”)[2] with many common names including cleavers,[3] clivers, “bort”, bedstraw, goosegrass,[3] catchweed,[3] stickyweed, stickybud, robin-run-the-hedge, sticky willy,[3][4] sticky willow, stickyjack, stickeljack, grip grass and velcro plant[5], is a herbaceous annual plant of the family Rubiaceae.”  (picture and quote from Wikipedia).

Now I have developed a real detestation of this plant.  My mum’s garden gets completely festooned in it during the summer since she stopped gardening and it is a vicious bastard.  It grows at 100 miles an hour and one single plant with minutely thin tangles of yellowish hairlike roots (which are far more extensive than they seem at first) will grow a rosette of 12 or more stems each one of which can get to 6 feet long.  Every time I pull it up I get scratched all over my arms.  What’s more, bringing plants down from Mum’s garden to my garden has imported it and it’s a menace here as well.

Last May I did two solid days weeding my mum’s front border, hoiking out endless Scottish thistles, cleavers, nettles and self seeded comfrey.  I ended up having a severe allergic reaction to the cleavers (I know it was them because the other things didn’t upset my skin later in the year but cleavers did) and then getting cellulitis into the bargain.  I have some unlovely photos of my left arm which I will not inflict upon an unsuspecting world; suffice it to say that for weeks it was a dark purplish red and extremely swollen, and I was put on mega doses of antibiotics.  (I’m fine now, thank you for asking.)

Be that as it may, I managed to pick several young plants of cleavers last night, none longer than about 10 inches (and no, I didn’t wear gauntlets, I’m stupid that way).  I took them in, and spent a good ten minutes washing them, because all those tiny hooks fasten onto every damn thing, including soil, fragments of dead leaves, tiny twigs, dirty great sticks.  And pulling off quite a lot of the stems, which was probably unnecessary.  I then put them into a stir-fry I was making, a minute or two before serving it up.

They tasted really lovely.

So now I have to rethink the whole cleavers thing, and view them as a wonderful resource of free food in the early spring, and treat eating them as a form of control.  They have self seeded so freely (one year’s seeds, 7 years’ weeds) over the last 20 years that I doubt I will ever run short of them.

Cleavers are, incidentally, closely related to  galium odoratum, sweet woodruff, or Waldmeister (Master of the woods) which I also have more or less as a weed in the garden, since someone was kind enough to give me some.  Sweet woodruff spreads prolifically by networks of roots shallowly underground and looks a lot like cleavers but doesn’t get any bigger than about 6 to 8 inches high and doesn’t have those horrible hooks that give you a rash.  What it does is have very pretty white flowers in April and May.

Steep several stems of it – leaves, flowers and all – in a bottle of good white German wine (a dry Riesling, for example)  for a few hours in May to get the wonderful traditional German drink Maibowle.  You don’t have to add anything else.  I used to put it in a bowl but now I just push several stems  – up to about 7 – into each bottle (2 bottles at least) and then put them in the fridge for a few hours.  I add a fresh stem of it to each glass when I serve it, which looks very pretty.  It smells divine, like new mown hay, and tastes lovely – very interesting and aromatic.  I’m no good at describing tastes and scents in terms of other tastes and scents, so I can’t really be more specific.  It’s a tradition in my household that there is always at least one Maibowle evening when friends come round to drink it – late on a warm sunny afternoon is optimal.

The Guardian on 13/5/2017 said about Sweet Woodruff:

“What is it?

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is best summed up by Somerset nursery Plants For Shade, whose description runs: “Mythical thug for a shady spot where it can spread and display its fragrant white flowers in spring.” Leaves arranged in a star shape appear first in early spring, followed by tiny starry flowers in April and May.

Plant it with?

This low-growing plant makes fantastic carpet-like ground cover under trees and shrubs where little else will thrive – or use it to camouflage the foliage of snowdrops as it fades.

And where?

I grow mine in a strip of soil surrounded on all sides by paths, so it can’t get out of bounds. It is reputed to favour moist environs, but it doesn’t seem bothered by my dry soil.

Any drawbacks?

If plants that spread bring you out in a cold sweat this is probably best avoided.

What else can it do?

Woodruff has a rich back story of medicinal use and religious meaning, but for our purposes it’s useful to know the leaves have a wonderful hay-like scent when pulled up and dried – perfect for pot-pourri or a herb pillow. And if you don’t like the scent of mothballs, keep sachets of it among your clothes as a moth deterrent.”

I didn’t know about the moth deterrent, and am delighted that it can be used for this.



Wild greens in the Hungry Gap

I was reading https://isobelandcat.wordpress.com/2019/03/13/dandelion-days/
and I started thinking about all the plants that grow in our gardens free, gratis and all for nothing.

I first got interested in this ages back in the very early 1970s.  I grew up in the 1950s knowing about blackberries, elderberries and raw swede, because there were blackberry and elderberry bushes on the way to primary school, and the farmer next door used to have swede clamps (heaps) in the fields, and his kids told me about slicing or breaking bits off and eating them when you were hungry.

But I actually got interested in wild food in the mid 1970s when I was living in Bishopstoke, then a village on the outskirts of Eastleigh (now a highly built up suburb, although where we lived is, I believe, still on the edge of the built-up area).  We lived in a tiny 2 up 2 down terraced cottage which had been built as housing for railway construction workers,  with a lovely long garden that backed onto a large piece of wild land which I now suspect had been the really big garden of an abandoned property.  The birdsong every morning was astounding, almost deafeningly loud and joyous.    I met my first ever forsythia there, two huge bushes, about 15 feet high and  six feet apart, with flowers of a gloriously zingy yellow.
(When we moved in 1978 to what is my current house, I was thrilled to find a forsythia at the bottom of the garden, only to be horrified and disappointed to find that the flowers were a far coarser yellow and crammed together as though there were a prize for the number of flowers per square millimetre.   I grubbed it up.  I now have three forsythia suspensa shrubs, which have the lovely glowing and clear yellow flowers of the bushes in our garden in Church Road, Bishopstoke, but which trail and sucker madly.  I still yearn for those beautiful upright shrubs.)
There was also a very pretty grove of swaying  trees – about 30 feet high – with slender stems and scented white flowers,  at the bottom of the garden.   It took a while for me to realise that they were what remained of a privet hedge – far prettier and more graceful than when they were originally planted.

I had to dig up a massive grove of brambles to get to the garden.  Back then I  loved that kind of challenge.  I still would but for various barriers to gardening.  Time is in fact the biggest, although aches, pains and an extremely tiresome knee don’t help.

But I was talking about wild food.  We used to go for walks in the country, which began about 60 yards from the house.  I went blackberrying but also sloe picking, and made my first sloe gin; I picked shedloads of wild rosehips and made rosehip syrup, following the instructions to a T, including sterilising the sealed bottles, so that when some weeks later bottles started exploding I was very indignant.  But never one to waste materials, I used the fermenting rosehip syrup to make wine. It made really nice wine, like a very light amontillado sherry.  Unlike the pea pod wine I made, which was disgusting beyond belief.

I promised Isobel to link this post to photos of the free food I mentioned in my comment on her post but I have run out of energy.  This will have to be post one of two.  Remind me if I don’t follow up!







Oh all right, let’s talk about that mural then

TheCritique Archives

by Martin Odoni

The largely-fictitious ‘anti-Semitism-in-Labour’ controversy is clearly never going to be allowed to die. I have no doubt more examples will be brought to public attention in the final days before the Local Elections in May, and most accusations will stem from heavily-distorted information, just as Mike Sivier can testify from what happened a year ago.

In case anyone is just back from a five-day holiday to Mars, the present storm of outrage is about a notorious mural on Brick Lane in London.


The artist who painted the mural is an American called Kalen Ockerman – alias ‘Mear One’. The mural is widely-held to be anti-Semitic in intent.

Back in 2012, there was a discussion on social media about having the mural removed. Jeremy Corbyn left a comment on the discussion thread defending its presence on freedom-of-speech grounds. This comment has ‘mysteriously’ been dragged into the cross-examination of…

View original post 1,501 more words


‘Trump is going to snap’: a rejoinder

Anyone who was at all ambivalent on the question of the climate now needs to see and reflect on the similarity between a government banning citizens from talking about politics and prohibiting them from talking about the weather. In response we have to overcome the social taboo on talking about Climate Change. Every time we change the subject we are cooperating with Trump and Pence’s agenda.

Source: ‘Trump is going to snap’: a rejoinder