Ahhh… April!

I do like it when April comes around, I really feel as if Spring is properly underway with the sun climbing ever higher in the sky and the evenings drawing out after the clocks change to British Summer Time.

It is the month that we see most of the plants and hedgerows bursting into life and the birds starting their annual courtship. April 14th is Cuckoo Day when their first call of the year is often heard, followed on the 15th by Swallow Day and the promise of long lazy days of Summer to come – we hope! But beware, April can always plunge us back into the dead of winter without any warning.

“March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers”, is a proverb we are probably all familiar with. But why do we get these classic ‘April showers’? One of the major reasons is the position of the jet stream. A band of very strong winds at around 30,000ft above the surface of the Earth, the jet stream controls the weather that we see on the ground.

High and low pressure systems are formed when the air in the jet stream speeds up or slows down. In early spring the jet stream starts to move northwards allowing large depressions to bring strong winds and rain in from the Atlantic. In one day the weather can change from springtime sunshine to winter sleet and snow.

April can bring all types of weather from sunshine to thunder, from fog and frost to mild muggy and drizzly days. The lowest April temperature for the United Kingdom is a dreadful minus 15°C on April 2nd 1917 in Cumbria – can you imagine?! And then again, it can become very warm with a record temperature recorded in London of 29.4°C on the 16th April 1949.

Cuckoo Day on April 14th is also St.Tiburtius’ Day – not a saint I have come across before. There is a very odd superstition that says if you hear the cuckoo sing on St.Tiburtius’ Day you should turn over all the money in your pockets, spit(!) and not look at the ground. If you do this and are standing on soft ground when you do it, you will have plenty of good luck. However, if you are standing on hard ground, the cuckoo’s call means bad luck. Um, I think I will pass on that one and just enjoy listening out for the cuckoo and its unique call.

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Growing up fast…

My partner in crime writing, Julia, got a new puppy back in March last year and we introduced you to her the following month – Moss, a Wirehaired German Pointer. Well, Moss is now one year old and has grown up into quite a character! She has her own Facebook page and also ‘writes’ reviews for a local business ‘Dartmoor Accommodation’ about dog-friendly places to visit. We thought we’d let her bring you up to date with her life so far…

Hello! I am Moss, the Dartmoor Dog Blogger. I have grown up a lot since you last saw me and I no longer look like a Spaniel. My lovely wirehaired coat has grown, and I am generally regarded as rather gorgeous with a fine moustache and beard. I also have pale greeny gold eyes which, I am told, are one of my best features.

I am lucky (so she keeps telling me) as I live on a farm on Dartmoor so I get lots of nice walks by the river, on the moor or just around the fields on the farm. I am especially fond of puddles, and I like to lie in them, but I am not a very good swimmer yet, I am still learning. I enjoy being in the waves in the sea when we go on holiday and I did swim a bit in Cornwall last summer.

A few of my favourite things! Top to bottom: The watering can incident, puddle bathing, mulching, erm… cushion chewing, relaxing on the sofa.I am, apparently, quite naughty and not very obedient (whatever that is!) and I do like a good chew. I have chewed all sorts of things – from my bed, to the aerial cable and part of a watering can, to name but a few. Different things have different textures and I like to try them out.

I have also tried different types of food such as raw spaghetti and garlic (euw!). Every day, as well as my proper food, I have natural yogurt, raw carrots and some pumpkin seeds – which are very yummy and I would like to eat them all the time. I am a very healthy dog! I also like to recycle things, like paper and cardboard and chew them up ready for the bin men. I am also good at mulching in the garden, chewing everything up and then spreading it around and sometimes bringing it into the house… which she doesn’t appreciate.

Sometimes, we go and visit nice places like hotels or pubs where they welcome dogs, some have water bowls and dog biscuits and special towels for me to wipe my feet on. I have to sit and watch her chomp her way through free meals and afternoon tea and I get given titbits. She then writes about it and I get even more famous! I think she probably get a better deal out of it than I do, but I do get to meet lots of new people, who are always very nice to me.

All in all, it’s not a bad life. I get to sleep a lot and relax on the sofa, it is quite tiring being famous and it is hard work training her to do what I want, but I am getting there… I reckon she’ll be well-trained by the end of this year.

Licks, Moss.

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Sea Otters

These are some of my favourite animals – in the whole world – I just adore the little things. They have to win cute marks from most people and I think this makes a lovely card.

The image is from the Jody Bergsma 8” x 8” cardmaking pad – and the backing paper is from the eternally useful Thomas Kinkade triple CD.

The base card measures  210mm x 150mm. First make the backing paper piece by cutting some kraft card slightly smaller than the card blank. On top of that layer some torn strips of parchment or pearlescent paper to look like surf and then some of the sea backing paper.

Now mat the otter topper on first kraft and then blue card and attach. Mat the little sentiment from the same sheet in the pad on blue and add underneath. Finally add the single layer of decoupage pieces. Embellish with some Signature die leafy flourishes and some shells.

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Grassy triangles and other unusual wild spaces!

Recently, as I was trying to turn out of a tricky junction on one of the narrow and winding lanes near my Devon home, I wondered why there are so often mounded triangles of grass at road junctions? How did these not entirely convenient features come to be?

When I looked into it there is, of course, a perfectly logical reason. As horses and carts, farm animals, carriages and eventually cars, turned left or right over the years, a wide splay often formed at the junction of country roads. Between the turning curves, undisturbed by traffic, grassy triangles were often left untouched when the roads started to be covered with tarmacadam. And so, these little oases of green are often home to all sorts of plants and wildlife – a mini nature reserve. 

I find it so interesting to see how nature makes the best of things in often the most hostile surroundings created by man. I recently sat transfixed for 10 minutes in a motorway service station watching the thriving wildlife in a scrubby hedgerow at the side of the parking area. A blackbird was busy feeding her young, two robins were having a punch up, and I even saw a tiny mouse skitter past. All around were fumes and noise and litter but they carried on with their lives perfectly happily.

Roundabouts are also havens for all sorts of wildlife too. Obviously when I am a passenger and not driving (she says hastily) I have caught sight of gorgeous wildflowers, butterlies and glimpses of wildlife too, slap bang in the middle of a very busy road system. Their inaccessibility to man is their saving grace.

To me, the most unexpected area for flora and fauna has to be motorway verges. Now that many have been established for decades, they have truly become nature reserves. Often covering quite large areas, these are inhospitable places for man, but they are often smothered in wildflowers and I have often seen merlins, and other birds of prey, hovering overhead their beady eyes fixed on a rabbit or other mammal happily hopping around in the vegetation below. How quickly nature adapts and accepts and then conquers these remote places. It gives me great pleasure to know that, given just the slightest chance, nature will always overcome in the end…

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Miniature works of art – with character!

I have always been fascinated by things in miniature – you’ll recall my blog a few months ago about model villages. Well, this blog is about even smaller works of art!

My eye was caught by a Facebook post featuring these absolutely delightful creatures! On closer investigation I found that their creator, the very talented Emma Cocker, lives and works in north Devon. She describes her work as ‘Handcrafted textile artworks, with character…’

Emma at work…These beautiful little figures are very definitely works of art – and not toys. They are for ‘grown up’ children to marvel at. Her work is sold in galleries across the country and she hand-makes every detail, from the tiny knitted sweaters to hand stitched mini rucksacks and tiny boot and shoes. The detail is wonderful.

Emma says; “I create quintessentially English characters, fabric sculptures and illustrations inspired by the coast and country. My work is carefully crafted in knit and stitch, combining antique, vintage and reclaimed textiles, and British wool. From ethical textile taxidermy, in the form of stags’ horns and a dapper fox dressed in his best hunting suit, to a crew of salty seadogs and complimentary, oversized knitted buoys I like to create pieces that surprise and question.”

Emma also makes hand-knitted anchors and buoys, and has experimented in the art of ‘ethical taxidermy’ in the form of knit-covered horns and antlers. Interesting!

As one would hope, Emma lives in the sort of house you would imagine – a tiny cob cottage on the coast at Appledore. ‘I feel lucky to live in a beautiful part of the world. From walking in the woods and seeing the colours of the bluebells, to local fisherman bringing in their catch of the day — it all feeds in to what I do. I love walking the coastal path, swimming in my favourite coves and rummaging in a good charity shop!”

You can buy her figures on Etsy, but if their price ticket is beyond you… just have a look at the lovely photography on her website and Facebook page and you can enjoy the exquisite detail, humour and skill in her miniature anthropomorphic figures.

Photos: www.kevinnicholson.com

© Emma Cocker

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