2 August 2020

The sound of thunder

A Butterfly Mind

I find it hard to believe that it is August already.  On July 31st it was still July.....

We went to Ivinghoe Beacon to walk.  It was a beautiful day - warm and sunny, and summery, and just like July ought to be, though I have no recollection of any other July 31sts - my mind is a wasteland when I search for details of how it might have been.

Anyway, it was a beautiful July day and I was happy to be wandering through woods, with the sun streaming through the grasses,

and backlighting the still fresh leaves,

I have recently discovered an interest in butterflies.  I suppose that I have always been interested in them - I remember occasionally collecting some when I was a kid, etherising them then sticking a pin through the thorax.  But was that interest?  Or was it vile vandalism?  I cannot be sure.  But I stopped doing that some sixty odd years ago, and have not noticed a change in the spelling of signs (pace Ray Bradbury).....


It's a summery thing.  Last year (though on August 18th, and certainly not on July 31st) my buddleia was suddenly attacked by a plague of Painted Ladies, swarming like locusts on the purple flowers.  It won't happen again though, I am relieved to say, as I punished the buddleia by replacing it with a rose.

By the way, in case you needed to know, Linnaeus - the Swedish botanist otherwise known as Carl von LinnĂ© - named the butterfly-attracting plant after the English botanist and rector Reverend Adam Buddle (who died in 1715 at the age of 53). 

Anyway, I noticed that these winged creatures seem to prefer sunshine and warmth, and who, with the exception of the rapidly declining polar bear, can disagree that these two words make life almost worth living?

So I have been trying to photograph these curious flying things, and learning their names. I have even taken up membership  of Butterfly Conservation (saving butterflies, moths and our environment)

July 31st must have been a good day for all, as I found several varieties on our walk, including what I think is a Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia),

By the way, if any of my identifications are incorrect, please do contact me......

Silver-washed Fritillary (female?)

I don't know that I have seen one of these before, certainly not on July 31st, and I marvel at its details.  This one may be old in butterfly years as it seems to be a bit chipped at the extremities, but it is active and agile and is enjoying the juice of the bramble, so I lower my gun, and travel on.

Now here's a pretty Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus - what a name!) a little like a Meadow Brown.  This one also likes brambles, and is unusual in that it can be seen on dull and cloudy days.  I have learned that most butterflies like warmth and sunshine, but I haven't yet worked out how they spend their time in bad weather.....  Do they just doze under a leaf somewhere?  They must get awful hungry!


Next I chance upon another bramble lover, one of the Whites. This, I think, is a Large (Pieris brassicae), the one I think we used to call a Cabbage White, whose greenish caterpillars could destroy our vegetable patch in a matter of seconds.  I load my blunderbuss and aim, but he's too quick for me and darts off to hide amongst the prickles.....

Large White

Very soon I spot another White, this time, I think, it may be a Green-veined one (Pieris napi).  I think I used to think of white butterflies as uninteresting, but now I know there are several different ones it becomes more fun, and anyway, if you look close their markings are often individual. I also love their furry shoulders, and their trembling antennae.  This one looks as though someone has taken a couple of bites out of the left wing - surely not a political move?

Green-veined White (female)

Trouble with the Whites is that they are pretty similar, especially if you don't see them together. Here's one that could be a Small (Pieris rapae) as he appears roughly the same size as the Ringlet next to him (they both have a wingspan of about 48mm, whereas the Large White can get up to 70mm, or in excess of the size of a widescreen picture like Ben Hur - but I digress.... NB I thought Ben Hur was shot in Cinemascope, but a younger brother of mine corrected me as it was in fact shot in MGM 65 Camera.... The Robe was shot in Cinemascope, and The Fall of the Roman Empire was shot in Ultra Panavision 70. As I say, you learn something new every July 31st!)

On the other hand he could well be the same one I shot before, thinking he was a Large White.  I should really give up.....

But there is one White which is unmistakable, which is this one. The Marbled White (Melanargia galathea).  The trouble, however, is that this one doesn't belong to the Whites and Yellow family, but to the Browns!  

You learn something new every July 31st.....

Marbled White

And in the Brown family there is also this very brown chap, the Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus - another name to conjure with!)


You can see here how those circles on the wings work.  It could almost be a weasel staring at you, or a cat of some kind.

Then, passing through the gate my friend was keeping, we emerge onto the chalk grasslands leading up to the Beacon, and here the flowers shimmer in the breeze and thistle down drifts across the airs. Little blue butterflies chase away from me, busily avoiding my shots, until I catch this one sucking hard at some Knapweed. I think he is a Chalk Hill Blue (Polyommatus coridon) but there is a possibility he is a Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus - I love that hint of bravura in the name).  Look at his glorious fur!

Chalk Hill Blue?

As far as I can tell these two engaged in a bit of social proximation are Common Blues, but as a beginner my identification skills have yet to be honed.....

Common Blues

My last sighting before returning home is this wonderful Brimstone, whose scientific name (Gonepteryx rhamni) is not only a mouthful but also somehow reminds me of dinosaurs.  Here he delicately tips the floret towards him as if it is a flute of champagne.  

It is appropriate that I finish here, as the Brimstone may have given us the name Butterfly, as the buttery colour of the male's wings is said to have inspired someone to call it thus.  

And with that thought I gaze into the distance of the Vale of Aylesbury, stealing the thoughts  of the couple before me, thoughts that perhaps should have stayed in July, wondering where the sound of thunder is, and whether the clapping of a butterfly's wings really could have caused the chaos that flaps around us now.....

And now.....  

It is August!  

The Harvest's in and the summer is soon to be over.....

24 July 2020

Fairy Tales

Sometimes reality eludes us.....

My wife, the tiny Amanda, and I, were fleeing through the dark woods, our wings encased in our wink aces, for fear of the dreaded contamination, the noxious virality that plagued our footsteps.

We had travelled long and soft, and were nearing the brinkling of exhaustion when we lighted on an enchanted grove, where trees seemed to be free to embrace doorways and rope ladders evaded the wired barbs....

We was done in, true, and the need was for restoration and recoups.  But it was unnervingly quietish.  I feared an entrapment, and wonted to stay away, but there was a dreary muse issuing from an hole in an house affronting me.....

No bode introduced theyselfs, and I beginned to wander.  There was signs.....

And the drear muzak revealed its Elf for some reason (don't ask) to be Townes van Zandt warbling Forever, For Always, For Certain :

Foresaken must sometimes befall us
For sorrow sometimes will call
Four seasons go around on a pinwheel
And tomorrow ain't nothin' at all

But no fairies flitted dancingly in the shards of the dying lights.

Instead, as a variation of uncertain pleasantry, an elderly Pixie presented himself, rattling two silver spoons in thyme.  Hi Ho! he cried, welcome I think!

I tiredly smiled and asked if he loved Townes van Zandt as much as we;

And if he had refreshing powers.

In a dialect that betrayed his distance from my homeland he offered the following, which I craved instanta:

Mine Ost enquired, in his tripped tongue, of our quest, and our story, and as I felt the golden liquor slip sliding into my necklace, I told him all I knowed, little that it was.  Rising from hell to high walter was where we were and we needed shelters.  Where are they that should live here being?  I asked.  

They have fleed, he cried, his anguish a little above normal.  

Flewed?  I suggesterised.  

No, fleed, for sure.  There was no winging.

But why?  No winging?  And fleed they are?

The monster Goblin Boris is their problem, sire.

Ahh, I sighed.  But do you have anything to eat?

Most assuredly, sire.  (and, in parenthesis, I have no fear of the Goblin Monster Boris as I am pixelated).  Please dine from my pictomenu:

I have whole roast shrew (what I shot myself yesterday)

And wild plum

Or two

Nuts from the hazel tree

Delicious flowers of the nettled stinger

Prickly blackflowers

And bitter sloughs....

For me, I cried, I'll have it all, and share we will the platter. Then bed we must as the tomorrow way is heavily uncertain and we know not where we are bound.

And so, dear reader, we dined, we wined, we semi-caroused in this enchanted glade, with our pixie host, and then we fell to sleep at our post, our heads filled with sweet cuttings.  

Then in the dead of night, as cool dew was beginning to settle on our eyelids, a sudden fright arose and shuddered me.  Our host was shaking and shivering us and saying we had to get right away as the Great Goblin Boris Monster was afoot.

I scrambled to my foots but too late as I felt the grasp of a leathery paw, the outer skin haired as a dog, the nails as harsh as a bear. It clasped around me, squeezing my supper and popping mine eyes, lifting me to its vast moon face. Spinning towards the broken yellow teeth, I was gassed by an exhalation of lying halitosis, the spiteful virality of a monster given to selfish disconcert, the air of conceit and unconcern.....

I knowed my time was up and the last thing I remember was thinking the shrew had died in vain....

And that was it.  End of.

But mirrorcules do hippen.  

I woke, with my wife, the tiny Amanda, at my side, at the bus stop.  There had been an intervention.  The Boris Monster Goblin  had been tripped and slashed and his mophead had been scoured and scored and his floppy headdress lifted and we been spared.  Weasels and Kites, Jackdaws and Squirrels and butterflies and moths and stinging beasts in their multitudes had arisen from Ultima Thule to put the Goblin back in its bogs.


We are now....

Awaiting the tin-thirsty bus to elsewhere.....

(Don't ask!)

And the moral of the story is.....

Don't believe a word they tell you.  

Nothing is what it seems.....



The first time that I came by lovin' 
Forever was all on my mind 
And I never got used to the hurting 
Or the searchin' for some love in kind 
And it seems like I'm still chasing rainbows 
It seems like I'm still on the run 
Forever don't mean much in passing 
Forgotten don't mean that it's done 

Forever, for always, for certain' 
For someone forsaken for sure 
For any old plan you got workin' 
For any old pain you can cure 
Forever, for always, for certain

Guy Clark

18 July 2020

Streets of London

Let me take you by the hand....

In the winter of '71 (I think - it was some years ago.....) I stayed with my second (?) cousin Jasper and his wife.  They had a flat on the third floor in Vauxhall Bridge Road and I was a wayward sixth former with pretensions towards further education...

Anyway, it became dark, and it became quiet, and we realised that it was snowing.  All of a (what's the opposite of sudden?) we realised that this was a Dickensian moment.

So we hurried to explore the city in their Ford Prefect, and soon the headlights were blinded by snowflakes and the wheels were slathering in the slurry of dying snowmen in deserted squares.  

It was an eerie, timeless experience.  I don't believe that anything similar has happened since, in London.....

Until, perhaps, now.... In a curious way, the Covid 19 blight has recreated the silence of those city streets.  I have not walked undeafened in London until now, and it is extraordinary.  This very morning I wandered across the Western centre of our greatest metropolis, and you could hear a bee buzz...

It is (almost) possible to breathe...

It is almost possible to pause and greet a passer-by without feeling it's all improper....

One could almost be enticed to catch a bus  on Regent Street (though there is the fear that that may not be all you would catch....)

And there is also the thought that you could pitch camp on the street and not really cause any harm...

Though the churches are closed, they still embrace wanderers in their porticoes....

And for those with access to wheels, it's a free paradise at the moment...

But, though you may have to crane your neck for them, there are signs that all is not well.  It's a sic-fi world.  Butterflies were trampled years ago for this....

I am about to reach out to this young woman to say beware, this road is dangerous.....  But before I make a fool of myself I see the emptiness around me, and remain a lonely cameraman....

Nearing the great pile of Gilbert Scott's St Pancras Hotel I am almost taken in by the shiny marble, but find that all is not what it seems....

And down the road I am brought back to Ralph McTell's new verse of his legendary hit Streets of London .

First recorded in 1969, the song at one point sold 90,000 copies a day and has been covered by more than 200 artists. It also won Ralph an Ivor Novello award for best song and continues to feature in folk music's "best of" playlists.

In March of this year Fergal Keane talked to his neighbour, and as a result Ralph added a verse to his career-defining hit song.

In shop doorways, under bridges, in all our towns and cities
You can glimpse the makeshift bedding from the corner of your eye
Remember what you're seeing barely hides a human being
We're all in this together, brother, sister, you and I.

Despite, or inspite of, the attempts of the gods of government, the city has lost its heart.  There are signs of life, but they are insipid, and there is no way they will pay the price of this virus.  

I know this will infuriate some, but at the Eurostar terminal things are quiet, and I cannot help but feel that this muffled disaster is like a suppurating wound hidden by the gangrenous bandage of Brexit.  

John Betjeman stands aloof on the first floor, a master of words, but a set of bones sticking through the flesh of the world he loved.  If he were here today, would he understand Dylan's Murder Most Foul?  Or would his attitude be that of amused and befuddled bystander where German Bombs were acceptable on Slough?

I have had enough of this heartless city.  I follow a cyclist down the escalator to happiness...

I wait upon the departure platform to hopefulness...

And then, on my walk home from the station I find traces of life that simply didn't make it....

In shop doorways, under bridges, in all our towns and cities
You can glimpse the makeshift bedding from the corner of your eye
Remember what you're seeing barely hides a human being
We're all in this together, brother, sister, you and I.

So how can you tell me you're lonely,
And say for you that the sun don't shine.
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London
I'll show you something to make you change your mind

Ralph McTell

It's strange that those we miss the most 
Are those we take for granted.

John Betjeman