A walk in the woods not a day on the DS

Just outside Corby, Northants

This evening, as I was driving Boy the Elder to his Scout meeting(in a field, in the dark, in the middle of nowhere) we saw a barn owl, a muntjack, a weasel, endless rabbits and something small and very fast which flew right in front of the car.  It was wonderful, particularly the barn owl whose ghostly white wings described delicate and silent patterns in the air, like a pale and feral angel.

I was gratified to witness the excitement of the boys at seeing these creatures and pleased that, despite living in the country, wild creatures are still wonderful to them.  As a child brought up on the outskirts of London, I remember reading nature books that would cite certain insects or birds that were apparently ‘common’ throughout England.  Not in bloody Stanwell they weren’t and I remember wondering where all these creatures could be living?  Actually they were probably there for the finding, but I didn’t know where to look.

Of late, I haven’t spent enough time taking the boys on walks in the countryside. The last few years have caught up with me a bit, and on the rare occasions when I sit still I fall asleep.  They play sports at school and spend time outside, but there is no substitute for just being in the woods or the park, taking time to see the detail, making up games that involve trees, sticks and mud, listening to the trees, the birds and the tiny sounds.

Speedwell

A couple of weekends ago, I sent the two of them off into the woods and told them not to come back for at least two hours.  Their mission was to explore their surroundings, get the lie of the land, see what was beyond the Co-op and the fish and chip shop, find out where the railway line went, discover the best climbing trees and viewpoints.

They came back tired and delighted.  They had found footpaths and a tree swing, a circular walk all round the town and the track bed of an old railway line.  They were particularly pleased with a concrete lookout point on which someone had sprayed the word ‘cock’ in large red letters.  This is now known as The Cockpit and is the focal point of many games and rendezvous.

Hawthorne

Children need to connect with nature.  They need to have unstructured time in which to get bored, thus giving them the brain space to get really creative.  Separation from the natural world takes away their freedom, their peace of mind and their independence.  Some parents are terrified to let their children go to parks or open spaces unsupervised because they have become obsessed with the idea that there are perverts and kidnappers round every corner.  Those same children may not have been taught to cross the road properly and yet the fear of them being run over takes second place to the threat of paedophiles.

Children’s time has become too structured, outdoors has become a facility not a place to be enjoyed on its own merit.  Children are taught about nature in schools through eco-disaster, floods, famines, global warming and whilst these things need to be taught, I wonder if this encourages them to really connect with nature or whether it persuades them that nature is an enemy to be overcome?  How many people became passionate naturalists without actually experiencing nature at first hand?

Where have the nature tables gone, with their birds’ nests, conkers, multi-hued leaves and shells?  When do the nature walks happen when children can feel the ground beneath their feet, smell the leaf mould, discover wild flowers and learn the difference between moths and butterflies?

We don’t have to live in the middle of nowhere to find these things, any tiny wild area will have something of interest and we need to find them, enjoy them and then pass on our enjoyment.  Note the difference in someone after a day in the fresh air to a day in front of the TV or a computer screen.

Let’s reclaim our natural spaces and in return find some space for ourselves.

How deep?

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Children’s Lunch Boxes – a cheap lunch option for the grown-ups as well

There was a pear but we eated it

Sometimes when I’ve been out shopping, I need to have lunch, I don’t want very much, I don’t need sophisticated but I need to stop feeling hungry.

The Wartime Housewife presents The Children’s Lunchbox.

This is not nearly as ghastly as you might think and many shops have caught on to the healthy options thing for children as well.  The children’s lunch box usually allows you to choose five or six items from quite a wide selection so you can be as healthy as you like.

Choices are usually a simple sandwich (often on wholemeal bread), crisps, fruit, cheese, raisins, yoghurt or fromage frais, a drink which is often fruit juice and a small chocolate bar.  The smarter the shop, the smarter the choices; for example John Lewis has a huge range which includes Pomme Bears (hurrah!), yoghurt or chocolate covered raisins and slightly more interesting fruit.

I have sampled the lunch boxes in cafes at supermarkets, department stores and garden centres for the purposes of this article and have found most of them to be of a high standard and very reasonably priced.  A lunch box rarely breaks the £4.00 barrier (and is usually much less) so is excellent value.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, John Lewis was easily the best, using quality ingredients, wholemeal bread with a generous amount of filling, and appealing choices.  ASDA was the worst, insisting on using white bread, cheap sugary drinks and boring fruit.  The rest were pretty good, with independent garden centres nearing the top.

And the best thing is that you always, always get a little packet of crayons and a colouring-in sheet.  How therapeutic.

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Shire Book of the Month: The Women’s Institute by Susan Cohen

The Women’s Institute is a radical organisation and always has been.  That took me by surprise as well.  Susan Cohen’s book ‘The Women’s Institute’ is a real eye-opener and is full of unexpected facts that should serve to blow away any lingering prejudice that the WI is all about Jam and Jerusalem.

The first WI was set up in 1915 in Llanfair in Wales and was inspired by the Canadian WI which was already well established.  The original mission was to harness the skills of country women and to encourage them to play a more active role in village life and to give them opportunities to share activities in a social context with other women. The Great War was already on and there was a great deal that needed doing.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the initial movers and shakers in the WI were suffragettes for whom the Institute was an excellent tool in furthering the cause of women.  Country women were often very isolated and there was little opportunity for socialising or personal development and the WI offered the chance to broaden their horizons from politics to practical skills, from art classes to charabanc tours.

The WI catered for women from all walks of life and everyone was equal; the scullery maid would sit at the same table as the lady of the manor and everyone had a voice.

A fine example of WI needlecraftf the manor and everyone had a voice. This situation would have been unheard of in any other context and is another example of the radicalism of the WI. Initially though, women had to be nominated and seconded by someone already in the group which could be quite nerve-wracking.

I asked my friend Mrs Grable why she had initially joined the WI.  She told me that, as a young mother, she was quite lonely at home all day on her own and the WI offered an opportunity to get out of the house and socialise with like-minded women and learn some new skills.  It was also a great way to meet her neighbours and they encouraged each other to go.  She has now been in the movement for forty years and it still has the same appeal, although the activities have expanded considerably since the 1960s.

During the WW2 the WIs were significantly involved in all aspects of war work including organising evacuees, food production and canning projects as well as fundraising and knitting socks for seamen.

The modern WI has also had a major impact in changing the law and leading campaigns including libraries, food labelling, domestic violence, mental health and global poverty and Cohen tells a wonderfully illustrated and evocative story of the importance and relevance of the Women’s Institute and its activities from its inception to the present day.  Perhaps it could broaden your horizons?

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Sunday Poem 111

I’m in the mood for something funny today.  I bought a book of Pam Ayres’ poems when I was a child which was called ‘Some More of Me Poetry’ and it used to have me laughing out loud.  Whenever I’m confronted with a vending machine, I always find myself reciting this poem.

Vending Machine – by Pam Ayres (b.1947)

I am a cunnin’ vending machine,
Lurkin’ in the hall.
So you can’t kick me delicate parts,
I’m bolted to the wall.
Come on! Drop in your money,
Don’t let’s hang about,
I’ll do my level best to see
You don’t get nothing out.

I sees you all approachin’
The fagless and the dry,
All fumblin’ in your pockets,
And expectant in the eye.
I might be in your place of work,
or on the High Street wall.
Trust in me! In theory,
I cater for you all.

Within these windows I provide
For every human state,
Hunger, night starvation,
And remembering birthdays late.
Just read the information,
Pop the money in – that’s grand,
And I’ll see absolutely nothing
Ever drops down in your hand.

I might be at your swimming bath,
And you’d come, cold and wet,
With a shilling in your hand,
Some hot soup for to get,
And as you stand in wet
Anticipation of a sup,
I will dispense the soup,
But I will not dispense the cup.

And then it’s all-out war,
Because you lost your half-a-nicker,
Mighty kicks and blows with bricks
Will make me neon flicker.
But if you bash me up,
So I’m removed, me pipes run dry,
There’s no way you can win,
I’ll send me brother by and by.

Once there was friendly ladies,
Years and years before,
Who stood with giant teapots,
Saying “What can I do you for?”
They’d hand you all the proper change
And pour your cup of tea,
But they’re not economic so…
Hard Luck! You’re stuck with me.

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The Two Minute Review – 14: Tin Tin

Film:                Tin Tin : The Secret of the Unicorn

Starring:         Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis,
Daniel Craig, Nick Frost,
Simon Pegg

Director:          Steven Spielberg

This film had me totally hooked before the end of the title sequence, which is one of the best I’ve seen in years.  The motion capture technology leaves you gasping, the music is so good you’ll want it on DVD and my sister and I sat there oo-ing and aah-ing all the way through.  This is a tale of high adventure; a worrying accurate portrayal of a drunken sea  captain, the charmingly inept Thompson Twins and some fabulous little plot ‘extras’ which serve only to delight.  The story is full of thrills and twists and yet remains as light as a feather and you will come out feeling thoroughly entertained.  The opening scenes show Tin Tin at a street market with Snowy, and the lusciousness of the detail and a lovely moment with a street artist are so satisfying you could cry.  I wanted to go straight back in to see it again.

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Vampires – a Practical Guide

Vampire by Edward Burne Jones

Imagine you are a vampire hunter on the trail of a beautiful young girl who has just been taken by the evil yet strangely alluring Count Dracula and you have ventured into the family crypt to release her from her terrible curse and allow you and your family to sleep at night without a string of pungent alliums and a sharpened piece of two b’four.

The vampire appears!!!! Aarrghghg! You dive into your bag for the acknowledged accoutrements of vampire slaying; garlic, wooden stake, crucifix … when suddenly you remember that you’re Jewish.  What do you wave at the advancing fanged predator?

I’m sorry to say that this is a situation that has been vexing me for some months now, so I did the only thing possible.  Some research.

Vampire legends go much further back than one might imagine, although the word ‘vampire’ only really came into common usage in the 18th century and comes originally from Serbia.

Lilith - first wife of Adam

Mysterious creatures of the shadows who feast off the living exist in the myths and legends of nearly every culture around the world.  Early Hebrew writings describe a winged demon  with the body of a woman and talons like an owl.  Her name was Lilith and she was the first wife of Adam and, as she was created from the same earth as him, she believed herself to be his equal.  But she refused to be submissive, so God banished her to the realm of demons after which she was believed to devour infants and small children, seduce men, steal their semen and then drink the blood of her victims.  She vowed to feed off the children of Adam i.e. humans, forever.  Without Lilith there would be no vampires.

This type of vampire is called an estrie and the only way to make sure she stays dead is to stop up her mouth with earth.  Estries don’t always attack in obvious ways and they would sit on hands or fingers, waiting for the person to rub their eyes or mouth and they could then enter the body.  To prevent an attack by vampires, Jews would place a bowl of water at the side of the bed to wash their hands before walking, thus preventing invasion.

Vampire legends appear all over the world and it occurs to me that the form which the creature takes tells us something about the psyche of the region.  Often the vampire will appear in the guise of a beautiful woman in order to gain access to its prey whilst others present as monsters, animal forms or pallid and degenerate replicas of humans.  They are often shape-shifters which adds another layer of fear as the vampire hunter may not even know what he’s looking for.

Vampires legends in brief:

China - Chiang-shih

China – Chiang Shi:  A recently deceased corpse who becomes possessed by a demon, covered with white or green hair, with long claws, teeth, glowing red eyes and lethal halitosis.  It can fly and  change into a wolf.  Repelled by garlic, salt and rice.  Killed by a bullet or thunder.

Japan - Gaki

Japan – Gaki:  Pale-skinned, cold and hollow-eyed blood drinkers.  Can shape-shift, impersonate humans and possibly go invisible.

Philippines – Aswang: Beautiful woman by day, tubular-tongued blood drinker by night.  Prefers children and after eating them, its belly swells and it flies home and breastfeeds its own children with the blood.

India - Rakshasa

India – Rakshasa: If a child is forced to eat human brains it becomes a Rakshasa who then needs human blood.  Again a shape-shifter, sometime a beautiful human, sometimes animal.  It lurks in trees to spy out its victims and if you so much as stray into its territory you will become seriously ill.

Ireland - Leahaun-shee

Ireland – Dearg-Due: This ancient vampire goes all the way back to the Celts.   The only way to stop it is to pile stones on the grave if you suspect the incumbent might be a vampire.
The Irish  also have the Leahaun-shee who is not technically a vampire but is vampiric in nature.  A beautiful woman, she lures young men under her spell  and then effectively shags them to death.  I’ve known women like that.

Scotland – BaoBahan-sith: is similar to the Leahaun-shee but is always dressed in green.

Germany – Doppelsauger: In the Slavic region of northern Germany, the Wends believed that once a baby was weaned, if it was breastfed again it would turn into a vampire.  It would eat the breast and take the life force of the mother.

Africa: the Africans are generally terribly keen on vampire stories and have Asanbosam, Adze, Impundulu and Ramanga to name but a few. The Ramanga is my personal favourite because it not only drinks blood but eats the toe nail clippings of nobles. Now that is truly horrible.

The Americas are awash with stories because they have the varied cultures of French and African Voodoo, the West Indies and South America as well.  Their monsters are often female and often corruptly sexual in nature.  The Chupacapra of Mexico/Puerto Rico is particularly well known as a creature that eats the flesh and drinks the blood of domesticated animals.

Isn’t it interesting how often these creatures are female and involve breasts and babies?  Is it at all possible that some of these stories emerged in cultures who were terrified and mystified in equal measure of blood, women, childbirth, breast feeding and women’s perceived power to enchant and ensnare?

Nosferatu

Modern Vampires

Although vampires have appeared in fiction and poetry since the 1700s, it was Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ which changed the depiction of vampires into elegant, sophisticated and desirable beings with their romantic suggestions of virginity, sex, blood and death.

Now, of course, vampires are all the rage with ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and the ‘Twilight Saga’ and psychologists think that this has come about through a combination of the modern fascination and pre-occupation with sex and the enduring terror of our own mortality.

But what’s really interesting is that every so often, present day societies will still become convinced that vampires are among them, these hysterics often emerging at times of terrible political or economic turbulence.

In 1970 it was rumoured that a vampire haunted Highgate Cemetery in London which a local man claimed to have exorcised and even that he destroyed a ‘nest’ of vampires in the area.
In 2002 stories of vampire attacks swept through Malawi in Africa which culminated in one individual being stoned to death and four others being attacked, one of whom was the Governor who was believed to be colluding with the undead.
In 2004 a Romanian family feared that their dead relative had become a vampire so they sensibly dug up his corpse, ripped out his heart, burnt it, mixed the ashes with water and drank it.

Clearly vampires are everywhere so, in true Wartime Housewife style, here are my top tips for repelling or killing these modern-day, blood-sucking hooligans.

How do you know if a grave contains a vampire? Get a virgin boy to ride over the grave, naked and bareback on a virgin stallion.  When the horse stops at a grave and won’t move forward, there’s your vampire.

Preventative Measures: Garlic, nailing clothes to coffin walls, do not invite them in to your house (no really, don’t), religious symbols* made of silver, mustard seed, wolfsbane, mirrors will sometimes repel.

Killing a vampire: sunlight, a wooden stake through the heart, preferably made of aspen or hawthorne (although this might just immobilise it), decapitation (dead cert), total immersion in running water or fire, drinking the blood of the dead, a silver bullet or knife, holy water, nail its coffin shut with silver nails.

* In order to bring this fascinating subject back to the beginning, religious symbols are a relatively modern method of protection.  The Catholic church decided that they, and only they, had the power to kill vampires and this is where the idea that a cross would repel these beasts but only, only mind you, if it was held by a true believer.  Presumably the unbelievers deserved to die. They also had the monopoly on holy water which should be thrown directly onto the vampire in question.

If you are at all worried, please feel free to contact this website for further advice.  And consider adding silver nails, sharpened sticks and a small phial of holy water to your DIY kit.  The rest, as one would expect, are probably Storecupboard Ingredients.

Christopher Lee - that's more like it

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I ran out of time…

I believe I may be very cute indeed

I had such a lovely post lined up for you today but the day ran away with my.  I spent all morning working on … well working on something, then I spent an hour doing paperwork, followed by lunch (Boy the Elder is still on half term) then some work on the post.  Except that I have just taken delivery of a new vacuum cleaner which needed building, which BTE did with great skill, so I had to try it out as I haven’t been able to vacuum for two weeks. In the middle of that I got a ‘phone call from a friend who was trying to organise a meeting point for the children to do some Halloween stuff, except that Boy the Younger had Cubs first and I had to sort out some stuff for him so he could get his IT badge and then I remembered that I needed another pumpkin to make a big pot of soup for us all.  But the pumpkins were all gorn so I had to use a butternut squash which took twice as long because Boy the Elder wanted it to make another lantern. I was going to write the article when BTY got home from school and then, while he was at cubs, make the soup.  Except that Cubs was cancelled at the last minute so we had to re-arrange the entertainment and abandon the article in favour of the soup.  By the time we got back it was time for ‘Doc Martin’ and now I have a splitting headache and I’m afraid I shall have to retire to my bed.

Sorry.

However, if you click on the link above, you will find three recipes for pumpkin as you’re bound to have some left or be able to pick up some post-Halloween bargains.

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