Friday, 22 February 2019

February straight from the Canary Isles and Rugby in Paris


Aberdeenshire was warmer than Rome this week. 18 degrees was recorded, breaking a record of 17 degrees, set in Victorian times in that part of the world, so let’s not immediately assume that global warming is to blame. I suspect though that this February will prove the warmest in UK history. It’s the benignity (spell check didn’t pull me up on this) and pleasantness which is the most striking. February is often grey, often cold but this month it feels positively Mediterranean in London. Sunshine, blue skies and no wind. It is slightly disconcerting. The internal body clock senses that something is not quite right and the birds will feel the same. Although they have a biological clock that uses daylight hours to determine the season, the length of this mild spell must be tricky for them to understand. The garden is relatively quiet, the robin is ever present, and the other usual suspects but it’s all rather peaceful. A solitary bumble bee appeared yesterday but there’s nothing pollinating out there so it flew off, clearly confused. As for the birds, I assume they don’t need so much access to the food that is put out for them or maybe they’re just chilling. Either way they must be in shock at how trouble-free this winter seems to be.
            Thirty-three years ago, February 1986, the birds, wildlife and people of Britain were succumbing to a different type of shock. A blocked month when the winds came entirely from Siberia, essentially freezing us solid. We like to call it “the beast from the East” these days as we’re very fond of our set phrases, presumably due to collective failing memory as technology further reduces our need to actually use our memories, or brains for that matter. This weather event was a particularly extraordinary one for the UK, as our winds come predominantly from the Atlantic. We do at times feel the chill of easterly winds but for an entire month is almost unheard of. It is one that I’m too young to remember, I’m afraid, except seeing an icicle under a bridge after school one day. Almost an entire month of freezing temperatures would have had a dramatic effect on wildlife though nature usually finds a way of recovering.
Quite what will happen this year if, as claimed, March stays mild too, is harder to predict. A cold spell in late March or April, which often occurs, could be damaging if the birds ignore their biological clocks and start breeding early. It is a strange thing as aesthetically it is undeniably pleasant. What’s not to like about this mild spring like weather? It just feels a bit more normal when it happens in mid-march. Bees appear, days are longer, the sun a little bit warmer. Nature is beginning to wake up. When it occurs a month early I can’t quite relax. Maybe I should just move to the Mediterranean?
            One further thing about that month of February 1986 was my introduction to the joys of the five nations rugby tournament as it was then. More of a re-introduction as had I watched it before on occasion and remember Scotland winning the Grand Slam in 1984. However, on a Saturday afternoon in that month, my football game must have been cancelled due to the weather as I found myself watching Wales v Scotland at Cardiff Arms Park on the TV. I still remember the excitement as Scotland seemed to scored try after try and still the bloody Welsh beat us. With a penalty from inside the Welsh half by a guy called Paul Thorburn. “Whoof, what a belt he’s given it” screamed the late great Bill McLaren. Rugby was the loser that days as Welsh penalties essentially won the game but never mind, it prepared me well for the next thirty years. Scottish rugby flatters to deceive much of the time, sometimes it just deceives. And these days, finally, we have some serious world class talent; Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg etc. and they’re out injured. Quelle deception, as the French say.
            Still it never stops the excitement of this time of year. We play the French tomorrow in Paris. We haven’t beaten them over there since 1999. I was in Paris that day. I lived there at the time. I had two tickets for the game and I didn’t go for reasons that I will explain. I suspect my friend Ewan whom I was going with has never forgiven me as we tore the French apart that day. We actually watched it in a Scottish pub I frequented at the time in the centre of Paris. ‘The Auld Alliance’. It may still be there. I don’t go there now if I find myself in Paris, primarily because I like to pretend to be French and also prefer to avoid being asked what football team I support. You can take a Scot out of Scotland…
There were about eight of us Scottish Francophiles that day – April 1999, a warm spring day - friends from university who had gathered and one honorary Scots Frenchman, Erwan. Seemed wrong for Ewan - not Erwan, stay with me - and I to go and leave them there so I sold the tickets and bought us all some exorbitantly priced beers. We had a ball. Five tries. Champagne rugby. Hasn’t been much Champagne for us in Paris since. Tomorrow we’ll see, the French are a bit of a car crash these days, a very large, heavy beast of a car with high specification but driven by a blind person. We’re more like rabbits in headlights but with the prancing skills of a deer. We’ll see. Either way, I can’t wait.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Midwinter Blues...


You’d be forgiven for thinking this to be a reference to my mood or the national mood given these shockingly non-sacred times we live in. It is, however, a reference to today’s beautiful blue sky. It’s mid-winter, more or less and the sky is blue. Beautifully blue. A blue sky on a crisp winter’s day is one of nature’s gifts. Where did the connection between blue and sadness come from? Having the blues. It’s odd. Grey is a far more depressing colour. Why don’t we have the greys? I suppose it just feels wrong. In 1983, on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance record, he sang “put on your red shoes and dance the blues”. I remember singing “put on your blue shoes and dance the reds”, for fun and larks. That doesn’t work either. The sad imagery and allegory of blue works even though it’s one of the most beautiful and uplifting colours. Maybe it’s just a paradox?
Back to the sky. The power of such things as a beautiful blue sky is underestimated. It brings out the colour in everything else, unlike grey which dulls everything. Trees in their bare winter state appear more regal, birds seem more colourful. Even dead frozen leaves exude a certain beauty. The stillness of the leaves contrasts with the activity in the garden. The birds are very active, they have to be, they’ll freeze and starve otherwise.
            The altruistic and self-serving (another paradox?) act of feeding the birds in winter does many things. It brings colour and life to your doorstep. It brings beauty and entertainment close to you too. It helps the birds survive and that’s important because nature is important. Without nature we won’t survive long yet we continue to mistreat it. Collectively, we all need to do our little bit, but most people don’t, sadly. Last weekend a song thrush came to the garden. This was most pleasing. Song thrushes have a lovely song in spring and summer and even autumn and are a sign of a healthy garden. Sadly, they have suffered from peoples’ use of pesticides in their gardens; which kills their favourite food, snails. I eat snails two or three times a year (only in France) but I have a choice. Sterilising our gardens like we have the countryside will ultimately come back to trouble us so let’s be aware of such things.
            In my pesticide-free though admittedly slightly scruffy garden there are plenty of birds. Tits; of the great, blue, coal and even long-tailed variety. Blue tits remain my favourite; beautiful, cheeky and clever. Rare in birds as it is in humans. Blackbirds, robins, dunnocks – a small brown ground feeder, easily overlooked but I like them - the odd little wren, so tiny. Collared doves, charming and dignified unlike their boisterous larger cousins - the woodpigeons - and always in a pair which is rather romantic. The city crows; magpies and jays – the most beautiful crow yet with the most coruscating call. It is a feast for the eyes with its pink, grey and blue plumage but an abomination to the ears. The only noise that is worse is foxes screaming at night. Goldfinches with their delightful colour co-ordination of red, white and gold.  The redwing has gone, presumably back to his colleagues, but hopefully will return and I haven’t given up hope that a fieldfare – a large winter thrush with striking plumage on its breast - may appear if the weather gets even colder.
            I’ve been feeding birds for over thirty years. It wasn’t cool then and it isn’t cool now, I’m delighted to say. We’re too obsessed and influenced in the UK by what is perceived to be cool. Make up your own mind. And get a bird-feeder. Put it outside your window or in your garden. I recommend it.  Makes you a slightly better person, slightly more rounded, slightly less of a conard, as the French say. You should do it. It may not stop you getting the blues from time to time but might make you appreciate blue a bit more, especially on days like today.

Friday, 18 January 2019

Gilbert White takes us back to the future.


Do you ever get that thing where something occurs and there’s a specific person you want to talk to about it? Birds is one of my things. When I see a certain bird I think of two people I’d like to discuss it with; one is a real friend, one an imaginary friend. Or more of a spiritual friend as he is real, but I never met him, as he died about 350 years ago.  The first, my real friend, Dan Kirkpatrick was a bird enthusiast, a genuine one, he actually went birdwatching. I’m more of somebody who watches birds wherever I am, rather than going to a specific place to watch them. I did when I was a kid, thanks to my my mother who would drive us down to an RSPB reserve called Lochwhinnoch near Glasgow, but I don’t any more. Well I go to Highgate Wood, but it’s ten minutes away. Not like going to Norfolk or something.  Luckily I have a garden with lots of birds. And you can watch birds anywhere. This leads me to my spiritual friend/hero, Gilbert White, because without him, there may not be an RSPB, there may not even be birdwatching. I’m sure someone else would have come up with the idea, but he was the pioneer. A curate, a man of the cloth, he was also a nature enthusiast, arguably Britain’s first ecologist. His nature diaries, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selbourne from where he lived in Hampshire are his works and the basis of his legacy.
            More of that later. If time-travel was possible, Gilbert is somebody I would pay to go back and meet. I’m surprised Richard Branson hasn’t mooted the idea of a commercial time machine? Probably because he knows that it’s one thing we’ll never manage. My Latin teacher at school taught me that. Didn’t teach us much else, being “about as effective as a cat flap in an elephant house”, to quote Blackadder the Third. But he did teach us this: travelling back through time is impossible as time is continually moving forward. How to make that jump? Impossible methinks. Thankfully that hasn’t stopped some fine writers imagining that it were possible. The Time Machine by H G Wells, introduced me to the idea. I saw the 1960 film adaptation at the GFT cinema in Glasgow in 1982. It shows its age now but it’s better than the version from 2002. There’s The Planet of the Apes, a ground breaking movie, from 1968. Based on a novel, La Planète des Singes, by a Frenchman, Pierre Boule, it remains one of my favourite films. There’s the fine short story, A Sound of Thunder, written in 1952 by Ray Bradbury, an American Sci-Fi writer. There are, of course, many others. One of the best, is the film, Back to the Future. Like all great films, it’s as good today as it was 33 years ago, if not better, as the darker themes are more prominent to my adult (relatively speaking) sensibility. It took them about six years to get it made. Proof that the world is insane.
            So back to the birds. I’ve had a couple of blackcaps as I do most winters. A pair, a male and a female, coming to the birdfeeders. So what, you say. Or what’s a blackcap? Well, it’s a warbler i.e. a small song bird. Traditionally, it’s a summer visitor, arriving early May, its beautiful song fills the woodlands, proclaiming the arrival of summer. It has a grey body and a black cap. The female has a brown cap, in fact, but womens’ rights didn’t exist when bird names were being handed out. That said, it may purely be aesthetical. Blackcap sounds nicer than browncap. The point is, they’re in my garden. But you said they’re summer visitors? I’m glad you’re paying attention. A modern phenomenon sees them overwintering in southern British cities such as London rather than migrating to say, Spain or West Africa. Global warming you cry. Unlikely. It’s pretty dam cold today. Bird feeders by bird-friendly brits, you suggest. More likely. No-one really knows, though there are theories, like the above and natural selection making certain birds more robust. That theory would seem to have legs. They’re almost as aggressive as the robin around the feeder and the delightful robin being the Begbie from Trainspotting equivalent of the bird world, that is quite something. The robin redbreast is regularly voted Britain’s favourite bird. Additional proof,  as was the case with Brexit that people should do a bit more research before voting. Certainly the blackcaps are very adaptable as they mainly eat insects in summer which are pretty scarce this time of year. What is also interesting is choosing to spend the winter in England rather than Southern Spain or West Africa. As an ex and possibly future ex-pat I find this is a questionable choice.     
           One other visitor has me thinking of my two friends. A redwing. I’ve written of them before. This one has been around for a few weeks. A redwing is a winter visitor, a thrush. Like other thrushes including blackbirds they like worms. And they like a lawn to search for worms. The ground is still relatively soft so that must be providing options. They also like berries and one of my trees has a rich supply which will keep them satisfied if the weather gets colder as it’s threatening to do. Very charming with its red underwings and a creamy line above its eye, what is interesting is that this guy is alone. Normally they fly in flocks. Who knows what his story is?
 One little tip if you want to help out blackbirds and thrushes in the cold weather. They love apples. Chop some up and throw them on your lawn, or yard, but beware that squirrels may have a go at them. I have a spray that repels squirrels but doesn’t bother birds, if you dislike squirrels as much as I do. Not their fault but they must be dealt with. Destructive menaces. Anyway back to the birds, the thrushes will thank-you for the help and you may get the most impressive one of all. The fieldfare, another winter visitor and truly beautiful.
           

Monday, 17 December 2018

Some Christmas wine chat....


             Whatever we say about Christmas, from a culinary perspective there’s certainly some serious fun to be had.  Have you already planned your menu or is someone else planning it for you? Either way I have a few wine thoughts to tempt you with.
            Say we start with a salmon mousse type of arrangement or a mackerel paté. Served on blinis, of course, or on oatcakes is rather fun. For those flavours, I’d suggest a Sauvignon Blanc from the Eastern or Upper Loire in France. Pouillé Fumé and Sancerre are the famous examples but there are others worth seeking out. Menetou Salon, Reuilly and Quincy are neighbouring areas providing that same beautiful crisp acidity at slightly more reasonable prices. Highly recommended. For those of you who think you probably don’t like Sav. Blanc due to the intense gooseberry bombs from Marlborough in New Zealand, don’t fret, this is a different experience, equally delicious with the famous goats’ cheese from the area such as Selles-sur-Cher (that’s my veggie tip). Yum yum yum.
            Now let’s assume you’re having turkey. You may not be, of course. I had pheasant in recent Christmases, one as as turkey is too big, two, I like pheasant and three, it’s cheap and roams around a bit more in quaint, leafy England, before being shot. But you probably are having turkey and why not. Turkey is delicious. Now, will you have white or red? You can have either really though red would probably be the experts’ choice.  With a roast turkey christmas dinner there are lots of flavours apart from the bird. Cranberry, stuffing, sprouts, rich, salty roasties and so on. For white, I‘d suggest a big chardonnay. Rich and oaky with good freshness and acidity too, in order to stand up to all those flavours. A rare treat would be Limoux in southern France which does fantastic examples, or South Africa does some delightful food-friendly Chardonnay, notably from the Western Cape. Margaret River in Western Australia also would be a good bet.  
            If you’re more inclined to red, as I would be, California or New Zealand Pinot Noir could be a good place to start, if you like the big new world flavours.  Burgundy, my favoured location for the sensual wonder that is Pinot Noir, may be dominated by the sharpness of the cranberry sauce, whereas the New World Pinots have more weight and depth of fruit. New Zealand can be procured for less money – still quite a lot though - but Californian Pinots are worth investigating if you’re happy to plunder your overdraft. Personally, I’d go for a European, something a bit more restrained. Maybe a high quality Beaujolais – no, that’s not a contradiction in terms – such as a Morgon or a Moulin-a-Vent or or a Côtes-du-Rhône named village such as Cairanne or Séguret or even a Rioja Reserva. Or less obvious, how about a Zweigelt, unique to Austria, medium-bodied with enough fruit, spice and acidity to match the turkey and trimmings.            
Some other reds worth discovering this Christmas and after, would include Saperavi. Saperavi is from Georgia. Yes, Georgia, on the Black Sea near Russia, that’s right. Caviar comes from there. I don’t know much more about Georgia but discovering this wonderful wine makes me want to. Too much for turkey – big and rich with strong tannins  - it would be a great match for beef or venison. Or how about Aglianico from south-west Italy. A similarly powerful red, with added minerality from the volcanic soils, it’s wonderful with dark meats or strong cheeses. Wine is about discovery. Voyages of discovery to places that you don’t need to spend a fortune visiting. Just spend twenty quid, drink a glass and imagine these beautiful lands where grapes have been grown for thousands of years.
As for dessert, there would have to be some kind of chocolate involved, as far as I’m concerned. Pedro Ximenez from south-west Spain is a dark, sweet sherry, reminiscent of chocolate raisins. It’s recommended poured over ice cream though ice cream is not particularly Christmassy. If you want to save the waistline, just drink it - chilled - on its own. The sherry that is, thanks to my editor for that one. The fascinating Icewine or Eiswein is also a thing of miraculous qualities. Produced in Canada, Germany and Austria, primarily, it has a unique genesis. When temperatures drop below a certain level, around minus eight, I believe, the grapes are picked and crushed frozen. The result is an acidity of astonishing intensity and very concentrated sweetness. Less cloying than classic dessert wine like Sauternes it is, again, a wine to be discovered, but it’s not easy to find and not cheap. Also, unusually, it comes in red and white. Maybe start saving up for next Christmas on that one...

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Christmas again! At least, we have a choice...


“It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid…” as Paul Young once sang. It’s true there are lots of things to be afraid of at the moment, or at least worried about. So much negativity, mediocrity, anger and hysteria Etc. so we probably need Christmas more than ever. Christmas, ideally in the Christian sense of peace, love and compassion or at least those great Crimbo songs from the 1970's. What we're more likely to get, however is people dressing in ridiculous costumes - one guy I saw, seemed to be dressed up in a baby suit covered in baubles and tinsel - people getting drunk at office parties, tacky light displays outside our houses, offending the eyes of anyone with a modicum of aesthetic judgement and the usual tasteless circus that is modern Christmas. We can also go to a carol concert or we could help feed homeless people. Good, spiritual things happen at Christmas too. I don’t tend to do either of these two things, though I wish I did. Point is, we have a choice. I often feel guilty at being a bit self-indulgent and lazy at this time of year, rather than helping my fellow man. At least I don’t offend my neighbours and contribute to global warming with a flashing reindeer outside the house.
I can think of many reasons for which I’d like to have a time machine. One would be to travel to mid 17th century England and bring back a Puritan type to see what they made of modern Christmas. I fear the horror might be too much for them. You see, the Puritans (Oliver Cromwell et al,  today’s equivalent of the DUP or Daily Mail readers minus the boozing and wife-swapping) banned Christmas, or rather the celebrating of Christmas. They felt it would be much better to spend time in quiet contemplation, praying for the salvation of one’s soul, being, as we are human, prone to sinfulness. What a bunch of killjoys. They did the same in Scotland, even earlier. “Dreary pricks” as Billy Connolly once described them. The banning of revelry had other reasons too. The Puritans, not being too keen on Catholics, also wanted to erase any evidence of Catholicism’s existence. Mass etc., hence Christ-mas, so it was partly political but also, clearly, because they were “dreary pricks”.
When Cromwell died and England decided they didn’t like him after all, they invited the Catholic monarch, Charles the 2nd, whose father’s head they had chopped off, to take the throne. Can never quite make their minds up, the English.  Charlie boy, grandson of James the Sixth of Scotland and First of England, for whom the term “party animal” was probably invented, quickly shook things up. Partying and producing illegitimate children left right and centre, he took a salacious revenge on those fun-hating puritans and of course laughter at Christmas was re-instated. Quite what he would have made of modern Christmas, who knows, but I suspect he wouldn’t ban it, except perhaps the playing of Christmas music in shops in October. Well that’s what I would do…And if it came down to choosing between a puritan Christmas and today’s then fetch me a Reindeer hat and a baby suit covered in tinsel anytime. On second thought…In any case, I feel grateful for the agony of choice.


Friday, 23 November 2018

With the passing of Topsy it really is a Black Friday



        There are dog people and there are others, right?! Some people just don’t get what the fuss is all about. It’s fair enough. There are cat people, too. There are reptile people. There are people who keep scorpions and stick insects as pets. I wonder if they grieve as much for their deceased scorpion or stick insect as I have this week for the loss of Topsy. She was eleven years old. I’d known her since she was a tiny puppy. My mother, Kate, living in the south of Spain, took her from a friend who had taken in a little stray dog which had subsequently given birth to ten pups. Initially rejected by someone else for not being “pretty enough” my mother and Topsy “found” each other and it was, I suspect, love at first sight. Certainly devotion at first sight from this little pup who would be named Topsy. A vibe that can’t be explained. It just is. Ex-pats in Spain understandably get a bad rap at times, but we forget the work some of them do in saving and re-homing stray dogs. Granted, it’s not generally the ones with skin like lobsters who drink beer or scotch for breakfast who are doing the good work. In any case, it’s an entire industry of benevolence, but I digress. She was a tiny, little, black bundle of fur. A mix of Lurcher and Spanish hunting dog, she grew up quickly and was, until relatively recently, a true athlete. Fast and agile. But she was first and foremost a great personality. Cheeky, intelligent, sneaky at times, especially when it came to food or the sofa, fun loving, low maintenance and utterly devoted and giving. Her vibe calmed the room.
            My first real memory of her is of around ten years ago, when spending some time in Sotogrande, Spain, as I was, I returned to the house to find her hanging helpless, upside down by one leg on some wire. I don’t what she’d done but my mobile phone was broken, there were magazines, knitting needles and cushions scattered everywhere (it wasn’t my house, it was Kates). This is no ordinary dog, I remember thinking. Slightly insane perhaps, but one of a kind. I think she grew into herself. That early madness and boisterous energy seems like a long time ago.  Christmas of 2010, I was going out to spend a week on my own with her at the family Finca in the mountains. I missed my flight and couldn't get another. Topsy had to spend a week on her own in her kennel outside, in the wind and rain. Someone fed her but she was alone. That was my first memory of being aware of loving this dog. I was worried, upset and angry with myself. She had also just lost her friend,
our other dog, Honey in horrific circumstances, a month before. I guessed she would be fine, just a bit lonely and cold for a week, but it was a terrible feeling. She brought that emotion out in me, as dogs do. A maturation, if you like.

            She came to London in 2015 - via an unorthodox route, including being pointlessly quarantined in Calais, due to the incompetent and twisted machinations of the shameless spiv who had been paid to bring her over – to be with Kate who was living in London at the time. She spent the summer here. She adapted perfectly, charming everyone she met; people in the street, in the pub, in the school where Kate worked, with my young nephew who would walk her.
            In the last year, tragically, she’d been very ill at times. Emaciated, with tumours eating away at her, the prognosis was very poor but with the help of a pioneering treatment called Bicom Bioresonance - which I can’t claim to understand but I intend to try – and her indomitable spirit she lived longer and better - and without pain killers - than anyone, vets included, had imagined. One more anecdote sums up her spirit. Back in the summer, Kate was driving back, late at night to the village. Coming up the hill she was confronted by a pair of eyes. Those eyes accompanied her, alongside the car back up the hill to to the house. The eyes belonged to Topsy, who on hearing the car’s engine had jumped down the ten-foot high garden wall and made her way towards the car to welcome her back. All this while at death’s door. A truly extraordinary spirit. A lesson in giving unconditional love and joy. I hope if her soul goes somewhere it goes into a future powerful politician or the like. That strength and spirit should not be wasted. The world is in dire need of more of those vibes. She was more than just a dog, more than just a little scruffy mutt. She was Topsy. I’ll stop now, my glasses are steaming up.


Monday, 22 October 2018

A Man For All Seasons...


I think it’s fair to say that we tend to think about colour when we think of autumn. Colour is always with us, so presumably as green leaves turn to red, it is the contrast – striking and beautiful – that gains our attention. Pumpkins and squash appear in supermarkets with their intense reds and oranges. Berries appear on trees with similar fiery colours. Lawns and pavements turn brown and red with fallen leaves. Some people like to ‘kick against the pricks’, I prefer kicking autumn leaves along the street. Pure therapy. I retain a memory – from so long ago that I don’t know when it was – of being knee-deep in leaves and kicking them along Kelvin Way in Glasgow’s West End.
Yet, actually, all seasons, when you think about it, are about colour. In spring, we’re grateful for any colour that appears. Pink blossom, for example, always thrills. In summer it’s green as the trees burst into bloom. It’s warm sunsets, it’s fruit and flowers on trees. Even winter has colours, usually grey, but frosty whites and crisp blue skies, ideally. There’s a fine film called A Man for All Seasons. It’s based on a book about Thomas More. In case you don’t know, Thomas More was a mate of Henry the Eighth, until Henry decided to have his head chopped off. I always liked the title. I suspect it might be ironic. More was a principled man. I like to think of myself as a man for all seasons though in a more literal way. I like the four seasons of our climate. I also like Frankie Valli’s band, the music by Vivaldi (well, a little) and the pizza too. However, let’s stick to the topic. I love autumn and its aforementioned colours and atmosphere. Equally evocative are the first misty mornings, the first cold evenings when you can see your breath, the melancholy and wistful call of the Robin red breast at night. All of these are special. They can’t entirely take away the loss of summer but you have to embrace the changes. Be a man or woman for all seasons, literally and metaphorically, if you can manage. I’m trying that.
            It is, thus, with a certain pleasure and a certain amusement that my garden remains partly dominated by summer colours. The weather’s been pretty good, it is a sun trap, and there’s not been much rain, so certain flowers remain in bloom and the colours are stubbornly representative of summer. Purples, yellows, pinks, whites and blues. Red from the few tomatoes, which is definitely a summer red. The yellow rose is in amazing shape. Literally reaching out to touch the sky. The stubbornness of nature is wonderful, despite autumn being undoubtedly in the ascendancy. There’s even still the odd bee, and the odd wasp flying around. Stubbornness is actually unfair, it has a negative sense. Let’s credit her with a Quaker-like discipline. Let’s say ‘strike while the iron is hot’, ‘make hay while the sun shines’, even “when ze cat’s away, Mister Fawlty” to quote Mrs Peignoir. Nature once again remains an inspiration and a teacher.