The all-conquering conker!

Conkers mean the arrival of Autumn.

I spotted a request for conkers from a friend’s mother on Facebook this morning. Was she about to stage a local conker championship or challenge her grandchildren to a match, I wondered? No… she was one of the many people who believe conkers can keep spiders out of their house! Hmmm, I thought, is there any truth in that, and are conkers good for anything else, other than looking lovely, confirming Autumn has arrived and entertaining kids in the playground.

Are conkers spider killers?

I hate to disappoint you, but there’s no proof this is true. The story goes that conkers contain a noxious chemical that repels spiders but no-one’s ever been able to scientifically prove it. Legend has it that if a spider gets close to a conker it will curl its legs up and die. Others say spiders will happily crawl over conkers with no ill effects at all. What do you think? Are you one of those people who have conkers strategically positioned around your house?

Bake a cake with conker flour?

Chestnuts, the edible ones!

Do not confuse horse chestnuts (conkers) with chestnuts, the latter is a pleasant and popular nut, the former is actually mildly poisonous! Despite this, I have read that those old stalwarts, the Victorians, wrote recipes for making conker flour. The seeds were shelled, ground and then leached to remove bitter flavours.

Conkers can cure sprains and bruises?

It is said that the horse chestnut is so named because its seeds were once used to treat ailments in horses. It has since been discovered that aescin, which can be extracted from conkers, has anti-inflammatory effects and is an effective remedy for sprains and bruises in humans.

Leave conkers in your wardrobe to deter moths

Horse chestnuts… the much less edible ones!

Is this another spider scam? It seems not. If moths are munching their way through your winter wardrobe then conkers could help stop the little critters. Conkers give off an aroma called triterpenoid that wards off pests. Place fresh conkers in among your clothes and as they dry out they emit the moth-repelling chemical. I shall be investigating this!

You can get clean with conker soap

Conkers contain saponins, which are soap-like chemicals that are sometimes added to shampoos and shower gels. It is believed that the Vikings (who were apparently surprisingly clean!) made their soap out of soaked, crushed up conkers. I’m not sure I shall be relaxing in a conker bath any time soon, but fascinating nonetheless!

 

 

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The heat is on… the climate is changing, or is it?

My eye was caught by this video posted on Facebook yesterday – it seemed such a clear and graphic way of showing what’s happening to our climate. The increasing shades or orange and red as we race up to the present day clearly show the increasing temperatures across the world… and it doesn’t even include the scorching, record-breaking summer of 2018!

Temperature Anomalies by Country 1880-2017

Click on the link to run the video and see what happens…

But then I took time to read people’s responses to the post (for once, it was all fairly sensible, with not too many rants) and I started to wonder just how accurate this eye-catching graphic was?

There were comments such as:

“Throughout history, previous climate changes happened over hundreds of thousands of years, not decades.”

“It is cyclical. In medieval times, the Thames froze over in the winter, and we had hot summers. In around 1700s, the same…”

“…it was appreciably colder in the late 1700’s and at the turn of the 20th century, with a warmer period in between. The Romans enjoyed an unusually warm few centuries and the ‘Dark Ages’ were caused in part by a bitter cold century.”

I also noticed that Great Britain is not listed in the countries featured… I know our weather is a bit strange… but did we have to be completely overlooked!? I believe our Met Office is one of the oldest, if not THE oldest, meteorological institutions in the world so we must have more accurate data than most countries.

I find it hard to believe that we are not responsible for causing global warming but, if you look at the history of the Earth as a 24hr clock, humans don’t even appear until 23 hours 58 minutes and 43 seconds! So our impact, although possibly significant, is only a tiny, tiny moment in the lifetime of this amazing planet. So let’s hope this data is not as damning as it seems…

 

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Pearls of wisdom

Surely one of the most popular embellishments for card makers – pearls manage to be pretty and elegant without being overly showy, classy rather than brash I always think! Of course, the pearls we use are synthetic, but a real natural pearl is a thing of extraordinary beauty.

If you have been to see Mama Mia II (like me!!), you will know there’s a scene where a young suitor opens an oyster for his beloved (no names, no plot spoilers!) and there just happens to be a great big pearl nestling in it! In reality, finding a pearl in an oyster is very rare… but in fiction, of course, anything can happen!

So what is a natural pearl? I always think it is incredible how they are produced… Pearls are made when a small object, such as a grain of sand, is washed into a mollusc. As a defence mechanism to an irritant inside its shell, the mollusc creates a substance called nacre (mother of pearl). Layer upon layer of nacre, coat the grain of sand until the iridescent gem is formed. The ideal pearl is perfectly round and smooth, but many other shapes, known as ‘baroque’ pearls, can occur. The finest quality natural pearls have been highly valued as gemstones and objects of beauty for many centuries. Because of this, ‘pearl’ has become a metaphor for something rare, fine, and valuable.

The most valuable pearls occur spontaneously in the wild, but are extremely rare, which is why they command such high prices. These wild pearls are referred to as ‘natural’ pearls. Cultured or farmed pearls from pearl oysters and freshwater mussels make up the vast majority of those sold. Imitation pearls are also widely sold in inexpensive jewellery – I think most of us of a ‘certain age’ probably own a string, but their iridescence is poor compared to genuine pearls.

Pearls are cultivated primarily for use in jewellery, but, in the past were also used to adorn clothing – think of the Elizabethans and their bodices encrusted with pearls. They are also been crushed and used in cosmetics, medicines and paint formulations.

Whether wild or cultured, gem-quality pearls are almost always pearlescent and iridescent, like the interior of the shell that produces them… hence the rather lovely term ‘mother of pearl’ as found inside the mollusc’s shell.

Cultured pearls are formed in pearl farms, using human intervention as well as natural processes. As with natural pearls, the initial formation of cultured pearls is the response of the shell to an ‘irritant’ – a tissue implant. A tiny piece of tissue (from a donor shell is transplanted into a recipient shell, causing a pearl sac to form into which the pearls structure starts to form. There are a number of methods for producing cultured pearls and one is by adding a spherical bead as a nucleus and most saltwater
cultured pearls are grown in this way.

So what makes pearls so beautiful? The unique lustre of pearls depends upon the reflection, refraction, and diffraction of light from the pearl’s translucent layers – the thinner and more numerous the layers in the pearl, the finer the lustre. So it’s the overlapping of successive layers causes the iridescence that pearls display. So now you know!

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Dowsing – discredited medieval practice, or useful skill?

Dowsing on Dartmoor!

As you probably know by now, I am interested in traditional remedies and ancient beliefs. I like to keep an open mind and try and discover whether things might be true or not, rather than just dismissing them out of hand. I’ve always been fascinated by dowsing, or water divining, and was reminded to look into this ancient practice last week when I drove past a sign for a dowsing convention in deepest Dartmoor! Actually, given it is such an ancient and fascinating landscape, I shouldn’t have been that surprised… What did surprise me, once I started looking into it, is that there is no scientific evidence that dowsing works – I had always thought there was.

Dowsing is a type of ‘divination’ used to locate ground water, buried metals or ores, gemstones, oil, gravesites and many other objects and materials without the use of scientific apparatus. Dowsers, or water witchers, claim that their divining rods cross over when the presence of water is detected below ground. It is regarded as a pseudoscience after numerous studies showed it was no better than chance at finding water.

A Y-shaped twig or rod, or two L-shaped ones — individually called a dowsing rod, divining rod or witching rod — are usually used for dowsing. The scientific explanation for what happens when people dowse is that ‘ideomotor movements’ – muscle movements caused by subconscious mental activity – make anything held in the hands move. It looks and feels as if the movements are involuntary.

Dowsing has been around for a long time and originated in Germany in the 16thCentury. In 1662, dowsing was declared to be ‘superstitious, or rather satanic’ by a Jesuit, Gaspar Schott, though he later noted that he wasn’t sure that the devil was always responsible for the movement of the rod! Nothing like sitting on the fence! In the South of France in the 17th century, it was used in tracking criminals and heretics. Its abuse led to a decree of the Inquisition in 1701, forbidding its employment for purposes of justice.

And there you have it – a bit of a cranky practice with no place in today’s world. But hold on a minute… in 2017, 10 of the 12 water companies in the UK admitted they are still using dowsing despite the lack of scientific evidence for its effectiveness! This discovery was made by the science blogger Sally Le Page after her parents reported seeing an engineer from Severn Trent Water “walking around holding two bent tent pegs to locate a pipe” near their home in Stratford-upon-Avon. The disclosure prompted calls for the regulator, OFWAT, to stop companies passing the cost of a ‘discredited medieval practice’ on to their customers. Extraordinary!

Some water companies, however, insisted the practice could be as effective as modern methods. Sally Le Page asked Severn Trent why it was still using divining rods to find pipes when there was no evidence that it worked. Replying on Twitter, the company said: “We’ve found that some of the older methods are just as effective than the new ones, but we do use drones as well, and now satellites.” Well, that’s all right then!

Photo credits:

Top image:
Photo credit: <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re/91c89d”>Visual Hunt</a>

Water witcher: 
Photo credit: <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/author/8f7aff”>State Library and Archives of Florida</a> on <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re/6ba9d8″>Visual Hunt</a> / <a href=”http://flickr.com/commons/usage/”> No known copyright restrictions</a>

Woodcut: 
Photo credit: <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/author/b0d021″>Jeff Dray</a> on <a href=”https://visualhunt.com/re/f771b4″>VisualHunt</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”> CC BY-SA</a>

Group dowsing: 
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

 

 

 

 

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A fan of fans!

I have been a fan of fans, so to speak, for ages and I was thrilled when Practical Publishing chose fans as the theme of my latest boxed set with them. The set (and it’s fantastic value) will be available on the website for pre-orders on Thursday 10th May and then on my upcoming Create and Craft shows on the 17th and 18th May. But back to being a fan of fans…

While there are endless possibilities for crafting, fans were, and still are, extremely useful devices for cooling yourself down on a hot day. Both highly decorative and practical, I think the loss of the fan as an everyday accessory is a great shame as it makes a great prop. You can fiddle with it (in lieu of cigarettes!), flirt coyly from behind it and use it to make a point by snapping it shut or perhaps even prodding someone with it!

Archaeological ruins show that the hand fan was used in ancient Greece at least since the 4th century. Christian Europe’s earliest fan dates from the 6th century. This was used during services to drive insects away from the consecrated bread and wine. Hand fans were absent in Europe during the High Middle Ages until they were reintroduced in the 13th and 14th centuries. Fans from the Middle East were brought back by Crusaders while Portuguese traders brought them back from China and Japan in the 16th century, and fans became popular. Fans are well displayed in the portraits of the high-born women of the era. Queen Elizabeth I of England can be seen to carry both folding fans decorated with pom poms on their guardsticks as well as the older style rigid fan, usually decorated with feathers and jewels.

In the 18th century, fans reached a high degree of artistry and were being made throughout Europe often by specialised craftsmen. Folded fans of silk or parchment were decorated and painted by artists.

It has been said that in the courts of England, Spain and elsewhere fans were used in a more or less secret, unspoken code of messages and that these ‘fan languages’ were a way to cope with the restricting social etiquette… However, modern research has proved that this was a marketing ploy developed in the 18th century by a fan manufacturer! I am going to pretend I didn’t discover this fact on Google as I think the language of the fan sounds wonderful and should be reintroduced!

I always associate fans with Jane Austen’s novels and there are lots of fun and interesting fan references on the Jane Austen’s World website.

The website contains the following ‘quote’ supporting the language of fans story, which I am going to repeat here as I’d really like to be able to snap my fan shut to end an argument!

“In the eighteenth century, wealthy Georgian ladies, especially English ones, waved fans at masquerade balls and wore them as a fashion accessory with almost every outfit that they owned. There were daytime fans, white satin bridal fans and even mourning fans. As well as drawing attention to beautiful and perfectly manicured hands, these items played a big part in delicate flirtations. In fact, a whole ‘language of the fan’ had developed in England in Tudor times that became especially popular for middle and upper-class Victorian women who were courting. A folded fan placed against a lady’s chin told a gentleman that she found him attractive, for example, while snapping a fan shut was a curt dismissal! No wonder that the 16th century English writer, Joseph Addison, stated: “Men have the sword, women have the fan and the fan is probably as effective a weapon!”

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