The beauty of birdsong

The magical song of a blackbird at dusk…

Is there anything more beautiful than birdsong? From the first trills of the dawn chorus to the solo blackbird singing as dusk falls, it is the most magical thing.

I read recently about some musicians holding concerts in woodland in the hope that a nightingale would join in the music – how magical that would be. Sadly, not many people have ever heard a nightingale as they have declined greatly over the past few years. The RSPB says there are fewer than 5,500 now, down from 60,000 a few decades ago. Isn’t that sad? It is only the male bird that sings and what makes the nightingale unique is that they sing many different notes and appear to respond to music made by humans.

A song thrush singing early on a summer’s morning.

The nightingale is the bird widely regarded as the star performer, but I can think of several others that frequently wow me with their musical skills. Many times up on Dartmoor I have listened to the beautiful trills and twitters of a skylark – only visible as a tiny dot, high up in the sky. A song thrush, again a bird in major decline, is also lovely to sit and listen to, it’s song so varied and clear. The gardener’s friend and surely one of our cheekiest birds, the robin, also has a delightful song and a blackbird’s solo at dusk is the perfect end to a day.

Birds use their voices to communicate with other birds. A bird ‘call’ says something definite about the caller – for example, “I’m a robin and I’m worried about that cat down there”. Bird ‘song’ is a specialised form of bird call that is designed to ensure the breeding success of the singer, to indicate clearly that he is healthy and fit and ready to breed.

And yes, as is so often the way, it’s largely a boy thing, designed so that other females of the same species are attracted and males of the same species are repelled.

A cheeky robin serenading us as we work in the garden!

Birdsong is most highly developed in a group of birds called ‘passeriformes’ which include wrens, robins, blackbirds and song thrushes. Basically, it means ‘perching bird’ and it’s an enormous group – around 5,400 of the world’s 8,000 to 9,000 species are ‘perching birds’ and all of them sing differently.

Each species has its own signature song. Some are basic, chiff-chaffs just go ‘chiff chaff’, but many are complex and never fail to lift the spirit – the blackbird being possibly the best example. Each song is different. It has to identify the singer’s species and also say something about the health of the singer. Many species even mimic other birds’ songs just to increase their repertoire, and it’s not unknown for other sounds, such as cats’ calls, to be included as well!

Birdsong is an integral part of the soundtrack in our everyday lives (well, for we lucky country dwellers at least) and when the singing stops – it is quite unsettling. I recall when we had an eclipse about 10 years ago and, as we stood outside, marvelling as the light quickly faded as the sun disappeared… the birdsong ceased. I found that silence along with the sudden gloom, very unsettling. A world without birdsong would be a barren place indeed.

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Howard Robinson’s Farmhouse

 

I always feel as though making a little decoupaged scene feels rather like creating a jigsaw puzzle – and I love puzzles! It may actually be that you have seen this image in a range of jigsaw puzzles as the artist Howard Robinson licenses quite a few of his creations to puzzle manufacturers around the world. It always makes me smile when I spot a puzzle from an image I recognise in a toy store.

There are twenty sheets to play with in the pack of Howard Robinson decoupage and it does feel like play. In this farmhouse picture, there’s the group of animals to arrange and it’s up to you how much detail and how many layers you choose to add. You can be really frugal and make more than one card from a sheet, it’s all personal choice.

I have to say the only real success I have had with decoupage over all my years’ experience is when I have been using a glue gel. My choice is usually Pinflair or Collall – both work really well and make decoupage a delight to create. You can make 3D decoupage cards with foam squares but the end result looks very gappy in my opinion, with glue gel you can curve the edges and vary the heights.

If you have never tried decoupage, these sheets are a good place to start – and remember you may find it easier to snip everything out using a tool like decoupage snips – if you don’t want to use those than try for some really small but sharp scissors.

Happy cardmaking!

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Time for a Spring clean!

There’s nothing like a nice bit of nesting!

I don’t think I’ve ever yearned for Spring to arrive quite so much as I have done this year. After such a horrible wet winter, followed by the two bouts of snow it really must be just around the corner now… please?

With the final arrival of Spring, many of us seem to automatically go into ‘Spring clean’ mode. Perhaps it’s part of human nature, or animal instincts, cleaning out our nests ready for the year (or new brood) if you see what I mean. I don’t know if it’s my imagination but there appear to be more and more cleaning products coming onto the market. Multi-surface cleaners seem to be a thing of the past and we now need specific products for everything from worktops to shower cubicles, hobs to glass and stainless steel. Add to that all the polishes and liquids for the different types of flooring available these days and our kitchen cupboards are full to bursting point! I can’t help but believe this is largely due to clever marketing, but perhaps I am being an old cynic…

Years ago, we used different products for different jobs but they were things we already had in the house – such as vinegar for windows. Mrs Beeton, the queen of household management, suggested tackling a dirty roasting tin with warm water, baking soda and a hardened crust of bread… Interesting!

As late as the 1950s, research showed that housewives were still spending up to 15 hours a day on household chores… can you imagine!? But then, being a housewife was a full-time job. The arrival of the twin tub probably made the biggest difference and doing the laundry suddenly became a much more manageable chore.

There was a shocking news item a month or so ago that found dishcloths and tea towels often have more bacteria on them than loo seats – ugh! One piece of advice was to put cloths in the dishwasher every couple of days as it steam sterilises them. If you don’t have a

Playing like we used to! Get outside and get mucky, it never did me any harm.

dishwasher I guess boiling them, or using liberal amounts of bleach to soak them will do the job. But then, are we too clean these days and is that why more children have allergies as they are not exposed to enough dirt and bugs at home? Goodness knows, I certainly don’t!

All I can say is I feel lucky to live in an age when I don’t have to spend 15 hours a day cleaning my house!

 

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Joanna Sheen Cardmaking Collection

I know many of you will have spotted this Cardmaking Collection back in January when it was released, but we have had so much positive feedback from it – I’m so glad everyone has enjoyed playing with the freebies and the papers – that I thought it would be good to just mention it again.

There are many nice bits and pieces that come with the set – a FANTASTIC embossing folder, that I have loved and used and used, a jug on a lace tablecloth that just goes so brilliantly with the flowers in the kit or any other flowers you choose. The daffodil die is of course very appropriate as the daffs are all struggling to come out now the snow has cleared (at least down here in Devon it has!) and there are so many different designs you could create with this die.

I have to say thank you to some of Practical Publishing’s team that made some of the cards in this picture, Nicky Gilburt, Jo Boland and Sue Hughes. There are many more card designers that worked on this issue and I wish I could mention them all – they are a very talented team.

Also included in this kit is the pretty stencil and of course fabulous rubber stamps and not forgetting the sheets and sheets of backing papers and toppers.

Currently, we have a few copies left so if you fancy one, grab it now before they disappear forever – they never republish an issue!

 

 

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Cookery for the ‘Middle Classes’!

Sorting my book collection is rather like painting the Forth Road Bridge – it’s a task that never ends! OK, so it’s rather more interesting than the paint job and sometimes, as happened last week, I come across a gem of a cookery book I didn’t even know I had!

I can only guess that this ancient coverless book was one of my Mother’s. It has the wonderful title of: ‘Miss Tuxford’s Cookery for the Middle Classes’. Can you imagine how a title like that would go down in 2018?!

Miss Hester Tuxford M.C.A first published this book in 1925 and several updated editions followed. In the edition I have (dated 1933, I think) she tells us proudly in the preface that the book has so far sold upwards of 200,000 copies – which is a very impressive figure indeed! I haven’t been able to find out any more about Hester Tuxford online, which is a shame, as I rather like the sound of her. She lived in ‘Westwood’, Tattershall in Lincolnshire, but that’s as much as I know.

Offal: Awful!

The book itself is fascinating as a piece of social history. Compare this to a contemporary cookery book and it is hard to believe that only about 90 years have passed since Miss Tuxford was writing her recipes. It seems much longer…

Back then, meat was a staple of all meals – and almost every part of the animal was consumed – from offal, to head to feet! The number of recipes featuring tripe is quite terrifying, including options to stew it, fry it, put it in a pie or make a tripe ragout. Equally, the range of meat eaten would make most of us excuse ourselves from the dining table pretty rapidly – including rabbit, pigeon and rook. Rook pie, anyone?

Miss Tuxford manages only a small section on vegetables and, from the outset, she makes it clear that they need to be treated with caution. She writes:

‘RULES FOR COOKING GREEN VEGETABLES
Green vegetables should always be cooked with the lid off the pan to allow all poisonous gases to escape that are generated whilst cooking. A little salt and a small piece of soda should be added to the boiling water before placing in the green vegetables. All vegetables should be well soaked in salt water for an hour before cooking.’

The section on puddings and sweets is extensive and includes such gems as Puzzle Pudding, Honeymoon Cheesecakes and Canary Pudding. Fortunately, the latter refers to a yellow lemon sauce rather than poor little baked birds as in the Rook Pie! There are no less than five roly-poly recipes and many more substantial puddings, most of which involve a large amount of lard and margarine.

It’s all very well for us to marvel at this stodgy fare but between the wars, life was pretty spartan. Central heating was a luxury and domestic appliances were not that commonplace, nor was car ownership, so calorie-rich meals were essential for warmth and physical energy. Most vegetables were what you managed to grow yourself and many would have been root vegetables. None of the exotic fruits and vegetables that we enjoy today were around, such as avocados, butternut squash and blueberries. Britain was a much greyer place.

Reading Miss Tuxford’s book certainly made me reflect on how fortunate we are today with the food and comfort that most of us enjoy. If you come across a copy of this book, or any others from that era, it really is absolutely fascinating reading…

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