Peacock Butterflies

Peacock Butterflies are unmistakeable and best-known species. They say the eyespot pattern evolved to scare or confuse predators. They tend to lay their eggs in baches of up to 500 on nettles or hops, so a rewilded garden is a perfect spot.

When threatened, the peacock butterfly makes a hissing sound which it creates by rubbing the veins on its forewings and hindwings together.

The adults hibernate over winter, usually in dark spaces like inside sheds and holes in trees. They fold their wings up and sleep; their dull wings allow them to blend in and rest undisturbed. Peacock butterflies then wake from hibernation during the spring, sometimes as early as March.

Did you know that butterfly’s tase with their feet? Butterflies do indeed have contact chemoreceptors on their feet, so they “taste” plant chemicals through their feet, just as we use the receptors on our tongue to taste our food. In some mythologies and rituals, it is thought that it’s the Butterfly Spirit who brings us our dreams. Because of this, babies people often present with a small depiction of a butterfly at bedtime, along with a lullaby invoking Butterfly for sweet dreams

Country lore says that a butterfly landing on you is a indication that you are in the process of growing, and learning your own reality, inner wisdom, and transformation.

May the wings of the Butterfly kiss the sun,

and find your shoulder to light on.

To bring you luck, happiness, and riches today,

tomorrow and beyond.”

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The Myths and Misconceptions of Timer Framed Buildings.

Ludlow has timber framed building that date back to the 15th century. Its an ideal spot to explore the myths and misconceptions of the timber framed building.

The earliest timber frame building is the cruck frame. Constructed of two curved timbers (the cruck blades) using the natural shape of a tree sliced long-ways down the middle so that whatever the shape of the curve the two sides are symmetrical. Look out for identical knots on either side. The two beams are joined together at the top by a ‘collar’ or tie-beam to make an A frame.

By the eighteenth nineteenth century the box frame had also become popular for residential buildings because it allowed the building of second and third floors and, being a square construction, made more use of town-centre space above the ground floor. The upper storeys often overhang the lower; this is called ‘jettying’ and can be seen all over Ludlow. Box framing also made it much easier to add extra wings to a building.

Because timber was a premium item, the owners would show off their wealth by incorporating more timber than necessary to provide structural integrity. Hardwood timbers are a highly durable material which can last for centuries. If you give oak a good hat and coat, it will last for 200 years or more. As a result of this, many impressive medieval timber frames are still standing.

The panels were infilled with wattle and daube, a woven lattice of wooden strips called wattle is daubed with a sticky material usually made of some combination of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung, animal hair, straw or grass. The use of dung, blood or urine in the mix was due to the use of old straw from animal sheds, saving money on buying fresh straw. The daube was finished with Limewash, a traditional lime-based paint with a high porosity and permeability that enabled walls to breathe, reducing the risk of damp.

The oak timbers were left bare as built and would develop a wonderful silvery colour that needed no maintenance. It was the Victorians who started painting timber framed building black and white. Doing so inflected more damage to the structure than a thousand years of the glorious British weather could throw at it. Victorian renovation has a lot to answer for.

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The Ancient Oak – Moseley Bog

There are around 500 species of oak that are surprisingly related to the beech family. Of all the trees in Britain and Ireland the oak is considered king. The oak is known as a keystone species that play a critical role in maintaining the structure of an ecological community. Most oak trees live around 100-150 years, however there are a few that are known to be around 2,000 years old.

The Druids frequently worshipped and practised their rites in oak groves. The word Druid may derive from a Celtic word meaning “knower of the oak tree”.

Oak was also favoured for its strength and durability. It was a core part of the distinctive Tudor timbered houses, that gave the UK its chocolate box look. They say that in building, if you give oak a good hat and boots, it will last for a thousand years.

Artists used its even-grained, honey-coloured beauty for carving and turning. The bark was valued by the leather tanning industry as it contains a lot of tannin.  During the Industrial Revolution large amounts were sent from northwest Scotland to Glasgow for this purpose. The bark also yields a brown dye, and oak galls gave the strong black dye from which ink was made. And of course, woodworkers like me make all sorts of furniture from oak; come and see my living room, hall, bedrooms, bathroom….

A tonic could be derived from boiling the bark that was used to treat harness sores on horses. Country-people frequented the oak for its curative powers, which in some places was considered so great that healing could occur simply by walking around the tree and wishing the ailment to be carried off by the first bird alighting on its branches. Strangely enough, a few local people have told me that this particular oak sits on a Ley Line.

I love looking for the Knopper galls on oak trees. They develop as a chemically induced distortion of growing acorns caused by gall wasps which lay eggs in buds.

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The Sequoia Trees at Brandwood End Cemetery.

Brandwood is one of those overlooked and undervalued garden cemeteries. The fact it was overlooked has proved to be a bonus in terms of its conservation and preservation. Most of the big Birmingham City cemeteries have been vandalised. A majority of the vandalism done by the city council itself under the guise of Health and Safety.

In reality, it is a cost cutting, kicking the can down the road, we cannot be bothered with heritage attitudes of we are here to create jobs and not to provide a public service council officers and the blindly lead nodding politicians.

Everyday people have lived and worked in Birmingham for hundreds of years, making a significant contribution to the growth, health, and wellbeing of the city. Yet, the only monuments to their lives are these grave markers that the council treats with contempt.

This sequoia tree avenue is a fitting tribute to the everyday people of Birmingham, a monumental guardian of everyday lives past.

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The Book that Lies

This is a typical small workshop office, a family brass foundery. The slant top desk is where the Ledger sat. The ledger is a book that holds a record of all of the transactions for the business.

The term ledger stems from the English dialect forms liggen or leggen, meaning “to lie or lay”. Indeed, in some businesses it did lie. However, in the true spirit of the word, it means the book that is open and lays flat and remains in one place.

Flat grave markers are also called ledgers. So now you know.

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The Iron Bridge

The Iron Bridge at Ironbridge is an iconic object in the landscape that is seen by many as the birthmark of the industrial revolution. People come from around the world to see it and marvel at this cast iron arch that crosses the River Severn. Built around 1780 it was a first significant bridge crossing that inspired the use of cast iron as a structural material.

A lot of academic stuff has been written about how it was cast and the constructional design. As a first of its kind, it used both dovetail and mortice joints (as seen in woodwork) in its construction. Casting the sections, certainly stretched the imaginations of the designers, ironmasters, and historians.

I still wonder as a builder; how did they erect it with only ropes and pulleys at their disposal.

I think that much construction knowledge, by necessity, resides in the minds of the individual working within the construction domain and that the intent behind the decisions made on sites and projects was often not recorded or documented and is therefore lost in the minds of the people from our past

As the casual visitor to Ironbridge is all consumed by the spectre of the Iron Bridge, just downstream is another icon from the past, the Coracle makers hut.

This hut is an object in the landscape that has become invisible to the casual onlooker by its familiarity. I love it, I have a thing about sheds.

The Coracle is a small locally made craft that is still used all over the world and are to me a link between our modern selves and our ancient past. There were thousands of Coracle made here. Local people used them for fishing and travel, the river itself was an integral part of everyday life and a source of sustenance. Most everyday people in Ironbridge owned a Coracle to avoid paying the toll on the Iron Bridge.

Making Coracles is a tacit skill, built by hand eye coordination and a feel for what’s right and works.

The growth of technology has moved us further away from our tacit skills and association with the landscape. This of course is the builder within me talking, but I do believe that understanding tacit knowledge should be the driving force to bring about critical thinking when exploring the past. I know that when I was building a Coracle, I was seeing he world thought the eyes of a person from the past, many thousands of years ago. If we can begin to understand out past, then maybe we can understand ourselves.

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Acts of Kindness That Stay in your Memories Forever

Birmingham on Sea or Weston Super Mare as the posh people would call it. Weston was the original coach day trip. It was all my mother could almost afford; she would be skint before the day ended. We would jump on a coach at Stockland Coaches in Erdington and travel down the M5 as far as Tewksbury. It’s where the M5 ended then. The A38 took us the rest of the way, through Gloucester, Bristol and onwards to Weston.

There would be a stop or two on the way for egg, crinkle cut chips and beans. I still love those big plastic tomatoes with sauce on the table and the sugar dispenser. The ballyhole machines were for the lorry drovers only. Mind bogglingly complicated.

Weston Grand Pier

Weston is notorious for the mud. It would be, the River Severn delivers several millions tons of the stuff at each tide. Having the second highest tidal range in the world the sea would be around three miles out, just over the horizon. But its was still the seaside to us kids and you could still build a sandcastle or two. I loved those paper flags.

Burnbeck Pier

While I love looking back and enjoying the sense of nostalgia, these were not the good old days. This was childhood poverty, and like most people in poverty like my mom, they managed to keep it a secret. On the way home, the coach would stop at a café. My mom would say “I’m ok, I don’t fancy anything, you carry on”.

A pillar of Strength

I will always remember her for these acts of kindness, and selflessness. Acts of kindness stay in your memories forever.

A pillar of Strength
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Moira Furnace

Today’s dog walk was a bit of a nostalgic day out. I lived in the area within walking distance of the furnace and five active coal mines of the South Derbyshire coal fields. To the casual passer-by the area looked rundown and tired. To me the place was a vibrant living landscape brimming full of industry, both past and present.

Industrialised yes, but it did sustain communities.

Within the space of a couple of years, all of the mines were closed and removed from the landscape, as in a crime novel where the perpetrator conceals the incriminating evidence. Miners who were about to me made redundant were being asked to demolish their own livelihoods and remove the remnants from the landscape. There was to be no monuments to the past mining history, the communities, or the way of live that went with it.

The body bag came in under the disguise of the National Forrest.

I am not bound to feeling sad about change. While we all want happy moments to last, the reality is, nothing is permanent in life only change itself. Saying that, I do get a kick from nostalgia and by visiting these places of change, I can build new fond memoires of this new landscape and new places to explore.

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Down the Cut

Who was Frank Wakeman?

Well this is an historical gem, seeing people down by the cut in and around Oldbury. My dad worked weekends at Allen’s Yard in Valencia Warf of the chemical arm in Oldbury, repairing canal barges. Not far from the Blue Billy spoil heaps, the chemical arm was white with whatever was being chucked into the cut. As a kid I love it and could have spent a lifetime there. The industry, the noise, the smoke and steam, always something new to see and wonder at. Maybe I did never leave.

I would love to know who the film-maker Frank Wakeman was. Did he do more filming?

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Are we Nearly There Yet?

Who remembers going on a holiday to the sea? A once-a-year pilgrimage to Rhyl, Severn Beach or Weston-super-Mare if your family was really posh. Coach trips were a popular way to get to coastal destinations in the 1960s, and it was common to see entire families hopping aboard together. At that time, cars were not common, so the coach was the only solution for families seeking a seaside holiday.

This trend for using coaches really started after the war, when transport ceased to be a functional solution and began to gain new ground in the tourism industry. Everyone would look forward to an exciting journey on the coach, which became part of the holiday itself. On the way back, the kids could catch up on their sleep as the adults unwound together.

The humble coach to me was a classic alternative to the Ford Pop

This trend for using coaches really started after the war, when transport ceased to be a functional solution and began to gain new ground in the tourism industry. Everyone would look forward to an exciting journey on the coach, which became part of the holiday itself. On the way back, the kids could catch up on their sleep as the adults unwound together.

The humble coach to me was a classic alternative to the Ford Pop. Anyone in my social circle who owned a car could only afford some clapped out heap. Coaches were different, they had a space age design, they had to compete with the likes of Fireball XL5 and Supercar. They did so remarkably well. All they needed was a set of wings and a rocket engine. The 60’s coach was a Tardis in reverse, full of the promise of adventurous luxury travel to exotic destinations on the outside and all of they pretty much of a muchness on the inside. They all had these hairy art deco pattern upholstery seats that absorbed the small of tobacco smoke from the ashtrays attached to the back of each seat. The headrests were covered with white linin to mop up the gallons of brill cream men would put on their hair. You felt travel sick before the diver even started the engine.

The driver’s cockpit was brilliant. A gigantic knobbly steering wheel, enormous pedals, a huge handbrake lever and the soup stirrer gearstick. Big round speedometer that went up to almost 30 mile per hour, oil gauge, fuel gauge, temperature gauge, vacuum gauge, and several other gauges I have no idea what they were for. Just to be on the safe side there were rows of long throw switches to swich on all sorts of things on and off. No wonder we would sing “oh he’s a jolly good fellow” to the driver at the end of the journey.

Road travel was slow. After all, cars were not common, and we were right in the middle of Dr Breeching dismantling the railway infrastructure. It was also pre motorway days. Therefore, the roads were narrow, overused and under maintained. Very little in the way of road lighting, road signs had glass reflectors, the cat’s eye was the guiding light of the roads. A 100-mile trip took all day. People queued at the Aust Ferry for three hours or took a five-hour car ride through Gloucester to get to Wales from Bristol. Imagine doing that journey in a clapped out Ford Pop.

Fortunately, there were lots of roadside cafes. Anything more then ten miles outside Birmingham was called The Halfway House. I have no idea where it was because there were so many of them. It seemed to be a way of reassuring the holiday traveller. It gave a sense of progress, a place in time and distance in the landscape to place yourself into context with the seaside. I found this interesting, as I would often not actually see the sea until the last ten seconds of the weeklong internal journey.

These roadside cafes were great. The plastic tablecloths, the plastic tomato sauce container shaped like a giant tomato. A row of Pinball and Ballyhole machines along one wall and occasionally a jukebox. Glass salt and white pepper and vinegar cruets and a large glass sugar dispenser. I was always fascinated how people put sugar in their tea.

The menu was always something with chips. Egg and chips, sausage and chips, pie and chips, chips and chips. Served with baked beans or peas and white thin sliced bread and margarine. Some cafes served crinkle cut chips. This was a real novelty for us kids. Only people on TV ate crinkle cut chips.

The café owner would put the tea pot on around about March, so it was almost ready by August. You certainly could taste the tea. For kids it was milk or a milkshake or orange squash. Served out of a machine that had a glass tank that sprayed the orange juice over the inside of the tank lid to cool it down.

These meals were marvellous and memorable. I had never used a serviette before, a change from the spit wash mom delt out. They were a very welcome break to what was an incredibly boring journey for kids. Adults would say the trip was part of the holiday. We just wanted to be at the seaside. I just could never sit still; I am still the same. I would eat my food then want to explore Halfway House. There would be a petrol station, with the old tall pumps and gantries. The pumps had sight glasses, with a little fan that spun around so you could tell the petrol was going in the tank. Oil sold in glass bottles or on tap in a measuring funnel. The shot of RedX can could be found at every garage. Free air and water was the logo, there to attract the passing holiday maker.

Refreshed, it was time to go back to the coach and onward to the seaside. Every coach had a clock, right at the front in middle of the isle. There for all to see. This was a clock on go slow; go very slow; go very very slow in fact. I was there, I watched it. The driver would announce that we would be arriving at out next stop in one hours’ time. One hour later the clock had moved five minutes. Not only did this encourage me to develop the concept of eclectic time, after all I did go on the crack the sequence of the gambling machine in the arcade. I was also forced to pluck up the courage to ask my mom that classic question “Are we Nearly There Yet?”

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