A murmuration…

If you have ever been lucky enough to see a murmuration of starlings – where the birds swoop and swirl in amazing aerial ballet creating patterns in the sky – it’s not something you are likely to forget. But have you ever wondered why it is called a ‘murmuration’?

You were probably too enchanted by the magical sight to notice the ongoing background murmur – or murmuration – as caused by the beating of 10,000 pairs of wings at once. And that’s where the term comes from. Most of the collective nouns we use date back to the mid-15th century. But the origins of most collective bird and animal nouns are not always as straightforward as they first appear.

Some are named after specific habits, such as ‘a descent of woodpeckers’, possibly due to their penchant for dropping down from great heights onto ants or ‘a leap of leopards’ or ‘a busyness of ferrets’ while others focus on a personality trait that we believe them to possess.

For instance, the number of sinister sounding nouns for crows, such as murder, mob and horde, probably come from medieval peasants’ fears that the mean-looking birds had been sent by the Devil or were witches in disguise.

Similarly, ‘an unkindness of ravens’ could stem from an old misguided belief that the birds were not caring parents, sometimes expelling their young from their nests before they were ready.

Many bird species have more than one collective noun. As with crows, there are many terms to describe finches (charm, trembling and trimming) and geese, depending on whether they’re flying (skein, wedge, nide) or gathered on water (plump) or land (gaggle).

A book by Chloe Rhodes An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns is fascinating. In it she explains that, unlike proverbs, rhymes or homilies, many of these delightful names endure because they were recorded and published in ‘Books of Courtesy’ – handbooks designed to educate the nobility. So an early sort of ‘one upmanship’ to ensure you made it plain you belonged to the ‘right’ set, something like the Sloane Ranger speak of the 1980s perhaps!

Here are some of my favourite bird terms:

  • A wake of buzzards
  • A commotion of coots
  • A murder of crows
  • An asylum of cuckoos
  • A swatting of flycatchers
  • A prayer of godwits
  • A conspiracy of ravens
  • A parliament of rooks
  • An exultation of skylarks
  • A murmuration of starlings
  • A chime of wrens
  • A booby of nuthatches
  • A quilt of eiders
  • A mischief of magpies
  • A wisdom of owls
  • A committee of terns
  • A descent of woodpeckers
  • A scold of jays
  • A charm of goldfinches
  • A fall of woodcock
  • A deceit of lapwings
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Tasting olive oil and rocket fuel!

Continuing my holiday adventures…

Yesterday, we docked at a town called Kotor in Montenegro. It was quaintly medieval in many places and very beautiful. I will admit to complete ignorance about Montenegro, the only time I have heard of it was as part of the Eurovision Song Contest but that’s faintly embarrassing! The tour we chose took us around the town and on to a small family olive oil producer.

Left to right: Here I am taking a wander around the old town of Kotor. Ruschka and Mischka the weed control management team. The olive grove.

Our first stop, once we arrived on the farm, was to meet Ruschka and Mischka the weed control management team. Mischka is 18 (on the right) and expecting a baby donkey soon and we shared some of the little welcome doughnuts we had been handed. We didn’t share the welcome drink we were given, I took one sip and immediately passed the rest of the glass to Richard… 50 per cent proof home made brandy… made variously from grapes, apples, plums or, I suspected, any fruit they had handy. It wasn’t unpleasant but wow it blew your head off! They didn’t call it rocket fuel for nothing!

We then moved on to the 300-year-old olive press and machinery, so beautiful, and lovely that it has been preserved. There was a careful explanation of how the oil is extracted. The rubbish/paste left over they reuse as compost material and animal feed. They had goats and sheep for cheese and rabbits for… OK, I will gloss over that one but I kind of assume they may not have kept 20 or so rabbits as pets. They showed us their brand new modern machinery, much less work for the donkeys than the old version, hence their transfer to weed management!

Then we had a lesson on how to taste olive oil and a serious lecture on how the stuff we are all buying is very unlikely to be proper olive oil as most of the supermarkets sell oils that are hugely blended and taste nothing like proper olive oil. Well having tasted some I suspect he was right, it was far fruitier and a little more peppery than the big bottles I buy in Tesco… and a 100cl bottle cost 3 euros direct from the farm, so that is about £25 a litre. Hmm, now what do I pay, about £4.99 at most for a litre. So I may change my ways, I’ll look more carefully when I get home.

Left to right: The old and the new olive presses… and the finished product.

They then gave us a gorgeous lunch, with cheese from their sheep, prosciutto ham made at home by the mother, eggs from their chickens and some lightly battered courgettes. Followed by apple cake (yup made by Mum) and Turkish coffee (fab if you like strong coffee). The cheese was interesting. One was a pale soft cheese which tasted like a mild Lancashire or something along those lines. Then they take some of those cheeses and place them in wire mesh cages and hang them over the patio (!) for three weeks. This dries them out and they then immerse them in olive oil. The resulting cheese was quite firm and almost had the strength of a Parmesan.

Then back to the ship where we found an invitation to eat with the captain tonight, aha … maybe I can persuade him to try card making, he already does various crafts like wood carving etc. in his spare time… so who knows!

The photo at the top is of the beautiful fish filled river and ponds in the town of Kotor.

 

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The Proof is in the Pudding

Hold on to your hats – the fourth and final instalment of the Swaddlecombe Mysteries will be available from mid-October! In ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’, Christmas comes to Swaddlecombe and, as the decorations go up, so does the body count. Victoria and Albert have their work cut out to identify ‘who dunnit’ in this frenzied festive free-for-all.

My partner in crime writing, Julia Wherrell, and I have had a lot of fun re-visiting our fictional village of Swaddlecombe and seeing what Victoria and Albert, the Reverend Ruminant, Jean and pub landlords Roger and Trudy and have all been up to since the last instalment! It’s both exciting and scary as you never quite know where things will take you, the characters definitely develop minds of their own.

This fourth novel opens in the run up to Christmas – Victoria’s first country Christmas in deepest Devon. Everyone’s getting festive, especially Trudy and the triplets and Victoria finds herself on a Christmas wreath-making course – ooh, I wonder where that idea came from?! Julia wanted to write about dastardly doings with a glue gun, but I managed to talk her out of that – I am too squeamish!

Dear old Albert is busy cooking again and ‘feeding’ his Christmas pudding. A local vineyard ensures there’s plenty of wine to lubricate the proceedings, but does it also contribute to two ‘accidental’ deaths? You’ll have to try and work that out for yourselves…

All your messages of encouragement (and nagging!) have been much appreciated and have helped keep Julia and myself motivated. We’ve both had a difficult couple of years and, while the writing project did take a while to come to the top of the ‘work’ pile, it was always in our minds. So, a big ‘thank you’ to all of you who love the characters and have been so patient in waiting for book four.

‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ will be available in Paperback and on Kindle mid-October and I promise to keep you posted on an exact launch date.

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Keys to the Beach Hut!

Sadly, we don’t all have a fabulous little beach hut, but we do all need to keep keys somewhere! One of the best things about being a crafter is that our stash can be used for so many different things. Cardmaking, home decorations, scrapbooking, gift making and just plain old playtime for us!

This is a lovely example of two of those categories, you could make something like this as a gift or just to decorate your home. We all need somewhere to put those dratted keys (the ones I lose all the time), and hanging them on a pretty little set of hooks like this is very pleasing! I have a lovely big wooden key with hooks along it in my home, that was made for me by my baby brother when he was at school… um, quite upsetting to remember he has long since had his 50th birthday and runs a very successful pub in Crickhowell in Wales (The Kestrel Inn – I highly recommend the food!) but the key holder is still in place, hand made gifts mean a lot.

You can use MDF as a base or thin plywood or even a piece of thicker wood if you have easier access to that. Get drilling first and make some holes for the string – some chunky rough string looks good. Then start your choice of paint effect. This has been crackled with Weathered Wood – but you could do nice straight stripes or just paint it plain white, or blue or whatever you like.

Once the paint is dry, screw in the cup hooks at the bottom and die cut and colour your beach huts. If you want to make them more serviceable, you could add a layer of matt or glossy varnish or laminate them to make them stronger. Now add them to the plaque together with the seagulls using trusty Pinflair. Use a fair sized blob to make sure you have some height.

Thread the string through and knot – and away you go. This same idea could be utilised with so many different dies and designs.

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Crafting with Granny

One of the joys of our hobby is being able to share, whether it’s sharing the making of cards with family and friends or just giving them the finished product!

This weekend I was playing with my little granddaughter Grace. She absolutely loves ponies and regularly rides a little Shetland pony called Pippin. Her mother has a lovely grey called Bobby and Grace has grown up thinking everyone has to clean up after horses and wears wellies most of the time!

So knowing her passion for all things horse related, rather than playing yet again with her model stable, we decided to do some cardmaking. I have a little box and a drawer which I am slowly saving things in when I spot something that might be fun for her to use.

The Cuttlebug is ideal for children and even this little 3 year old can turn the handle if you hold the machine steady for her. We have a couple of suitable horsey dies in the Signature Dies range, so they have been waiting in the drawer for some time!

Poor old Bobby got kicked by another horse and is confined to his stable on box rest until his leg heals. So we made him a get well soon card!

Grace is definitely a chip off the old block, so to speak, she chose colours beautifully, and is very good already at accurately wielding the glue dispenser. I did the double sided taping, more for speed than anything, but soon I am sure she will manage with a tape dispenser. We die cut many more horses than we needed (ok so she wouldn’t stop and I didn’t like to halt the enthusiasm!) and included those inside the card “so Mummy can play with them” – think of it as alternative confetti to put inside a card!

The front you can see here in the picture, inside we used a Get Well Soon die and wrote a message for Bobby. The grass is made by using the Icicle border die. This design could be used with any of the animal families we have, so it could be a dog card, farm card or whatever you like!

 

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