Pareidolia

Pareidolia, the phenomenon in which the human mind sees a familiar object (usually a face) in a random pattern. I recently took this photo of a birch polypore on a standing dead birch tree and felt that it resembled an elderly muppet with its false teeth removed. An American friend was reminded of a bitten into jelly and peanut butter sandwich.Photo of birch polypore

I think we can all agree that this fallen tree resembles an elephant lurking amongst the trees.Photo of tree resembling elephant

#CharityChristmas5 No.5

The fifth and final #CharityChristmas5 is here. There is so much need in the World and so many good people doing their best to meet it, it has been really hard to choose just five. However, dire financial circumstances limit one’s generosity, so the selection has been rather personal. The fifth charity is St Michael’s Hospice in Herefordshire, who provide palliative care. You can follow them on Twitter @StMichaelsHosp Photo of Christmas bauble

There are many of you out there volunteering, fundraising and donating every day of the year, to no fanfare. We know you are out there and we are grateful – thank you.

#CharityChristmas5 No. 4

The fourth charity is a little different to the others. Larger and more international, it is Animals Asia. It was founded in 1998 by Jill Robinson and campaigns to end bear bile farming. They have sanctuaries where bears rescued from this vile practice can live out their lives happily.

Illustration of Moon Bear

Richard Lydekker [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Asian countries, particularly China have a poor reputation for animal welfare; from the unspeakable horrors of the Yulin dog meat festival, to the pointless hunting to extinction of endangered animals for worthless folk medicine. However, there are many activists from these countries working hard to change attitudes and practices and Animals Asia supports them with their cat and dog welfare and captive animal welfare campaigns.

Photo of moon bear eating jam

Photo of rescued moon bear enjoying some strawberry jam – image courtesy of Animals Asia Foundation

Your £5.00 will purchase a jar of strawberry jam for the rescued bears, more expensive gifts are available from their site here. Of course in previous years it used to a pot of honey and I was going to say, “What Winnie The Pooh fan could resist buying a bear a pot of honey for Christmas”, so they have kind of ruined that for me. However, I cannot hold a grudge against people who do such good work, so a pot of strawberry jam it is!

Polish Santa

Regular readers will remember my post about Polish shop signs in Hereford – don’t worry there isn’t a quiz, you didn’t need to be paying attention. The back door of one of these shops has a large illuminated inflatable Santa waving to us, how jolly!Photo of Santa outside shop

These shops have sprung up, in what was getting to be quite a derelict part of town, to provide familiar products to many agricultural workers who came to Herefordshire from Eastern Europe to pick our famous apples and strawberries.

Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia”

#CharityChristmas5 No. 3

I thought number three should be devoted to those selfless people who protect and care for our native wildlife. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a penchant for hedgehogs. These endearing little critters have been voted, yet again, the UK’s favourite mammal; yet their numbers are crashing alarmingly.Photo of hedgehog in Santa hat

Thankfully there seems to be an increasing awareness of the problems facing hedgehogs and a willingness by the public to help them out. The flip side of this is that the hedgehog rescues are being inundated with poorly, injured or underweight hedgehogs. These good people are often self-funded and devote so much of their time. The stand out hedgehog rescue for me personally is Oggles. Vicky who dedicates her life to caring for these precious balls of spikiness suffers from a lot of health problems, but always puts her hogs first. She is fortunate to have a lovely lady who runs Facebook and Twitter (@OgglesHoggyQuiz) accounts on her behalf to raise much needed funds. Vicky’s dream is to have a dedicated “hogspital” to care for her charges and to be able to teach others her skills. Please do take a look at the website and help in any way that you feel able.Photo of hedgehog in dish

Other hedgehog rescues have found their own ways of raising funds to pay for the very expensive care these hedgehogs need. As well as food, the hogs often need medicines and veterinary treatment and we all know how those bills can mount up. Having looked after two hedgehogs for one night and then a third hog for two nights I have an inkling of how much work they take just to keep them clean and tidy. However, these hedgehog carers have to find the time to raise their funds; Little Silver Hedgehog makes lovely jewellery, Leicester Hedgehogs makes figurines and Wildlife Orphans puts together charming videos outlining the stories of the hedgehogs she helps as well as providing a wealth of information. Photo of hedgehog

As well as the rescues there are dedicated folk who give of their time and money to foster or care for hedgehogs, taking some of the strain from the rescues who can then concentrate on the sickest animals. Twitter users can use the hashtag #pricklypals to find a group of lovely people always willing to offer support and advice as well as sharing stories and pictures of their charges. Daisy the 8 year old daughter of hedgehog carer @EmmDonald not only provides a top notch maid service for their resident hogs, but she has also raised a stunning £130 for her local rescue, Poppies Creche. Daisy designed this fabulous logo and created keyrings and other merchandise to sell.Photo of Daisy's Help the Hedgehogs Poster

Equally importantly Daisy is raising awareness of the plight of hedgehogs and what can be done to help them and has even appeared on BBC Newsround. She is a real hedgehog champion. It is behoven upon us to protect our environment and wildlife for future generations, we have a duty to be responsible custodians.

Photo of Daisy holding hedgehog

Daisy and B&B resident, Frankie – image courtesy @EmmDonald

It is well worth finding the details of your local wildlife rescues and having their contact details to hand, you never know when and where you might encounter some wildlife in need of assistance. You can also find information on how to donate, their Amazon wishlists or any other way that you might help with time or skills.Photo of rescued hedgehogs

Another member of our beleagured wildlife is the much persecuted badger. The Badger Trust provides a wealth of information and assists smaller local groups. It is well worth taking a look at their website as a starting point if you wish to help badgers. There are also bTB vaccination programmes going on to counter the unscientific badger cull.

Photo of painting of badgers by Thorburn

The Badger by Archibald Thorburn 1918

Perhaps the biggest pressure our native wildlife faces is habitat loss. By supporting conservation charities such as the Woodland Trust you are helping a wide range of animals from birds to bees. For a more hands on approach you can probably find a local conservation group that you could volunteer your time with. This will have the added bonus of fresh air, exercise, good company and gaining new skills and knowledge. An example would be Mike’s volunteering days at Wilden Marsh. Photo of Credenhill Wood

I am sure that you will be able to find some way to help nature this Christmas and beyond.

#CharityChristmas5 No.2

For those of you who missed #CharityChristmas5 No.1 the premise is to donate £5 to 5 different charities by Christmas – £25 by the 25th. I know that this is a lot of money for many people (including myself!) so the hashtag can also be used on Twitter to promote any small charity that you think could benefit.Photo of dog and bell Christmas decorations

Number 2 on my list is Finding Furever Homes. This is a small charity that helps to rehome dogs. They rescue dogs from abuse, neglect and other sad circumstances. They homecheck to make sure that each dog goes to a suitable home, in the meantime the dogs are housed in kennels or with foster families. Your £5 will buy a rescue dog a Christmas dinner and you will get a certificate to prove it! You can also purchase other merchandise, sponser a kennel or donate to any of their other fundraising activities. You can also volunteer your time helping to look after the dogs or carrying out homechecks. You could even adopt one of their dogs if you are rescue ready. All the information is on their website or you can follow them on Twitter @NWDogRescue to see the work that they do.  Of course by adopting a rescue animal you save two lives; the animal that you have given a home to and the animal that the rescue can now house in its place.

Photo of rescue dog Asbo

Rescue hound, Asbo. Adorable and never knowingly well behaved – Image courtesy Finding Furever Homes @NWDogRescue

This leads me neatly on to some other Twitter friends of mine, The Squeasels @McFuzzies a “business” of 15 ferrets. Their human slave has adopted them all from ferret rescues, thereby saving 30 ferrets altogether. I know that they also do a lot to help other animals including our precious British wildlife. They are well worth following on Twitter if you are a fan of cuteness, kindness and giggles. Although they do more than enough already, they have very kindly supported this scheme of mine and wish to nominate The Marmalade Trust, @marmaladetrust a Bristol based charity that tackles loneliness in vulnerable members of society. Take a look at their website to see the many ways in which you can help this very worthy cause. Loneliness seems to be an increasing problem in modern society and the effects on mental and physical health can be devastating. Perhaps you have a neighbour that could benefit from you spending some of your time with them?

A "Squeasel" trying to look innocent after knocking over a vase of flowers - image courtesy of @McFuzzies

A “Squeasel” trying to look innocent after knocking over a vase of flowers – image courtesy of @McFuzzies

#CharityChristmas5 No.1

The thing about insomnia is that while you are lying there, failing to repair mind and body with restorative sleep, the brain comes up with silly ideas. This is one of many that my brain has come up with, but as it can be labelled “mostly harmless” I shall commit it to the World Wide Web.Photo of festive twigs

I thought of the Twitter hashtag #CharityChristmas5 whereby 5 times during December people could donate five pounds/dollars/euros etc to a charity. By 25th December, Christmas Day, 25 bits of currency would have been donated to 5 different charities by each individual. I thought perhaps people could choose smaller unsung charities. The people who run these don’t get executive levels of pay, they often do it to their own financial cost. They also don’t have armies of volunteers cold calling or chugging for them. I know that in these difficult times even this is a lot of money for many people, but even if people could think of a charity and retweet them with the hashtag it would raise useful publicity for them. You never know, a millionaire might see the tweet!Photo of £5 note

My first charity nominee is @otslondon and their sister campaign @breakfastinabag They help people and their dogs who are sleeping rough, in any way that they can. Take a look at their Twitter feeds to see the many things that they do and how to help them. They also have Amazon wish lists and donation pages here and here so that you can purchase items directly for them with your fiver. I’m looking forward to seeing who other people nominate.

Photo of Rodney a street dog

Rodney – provided with collar, food and treats by @otslondon – image courtesy of @otslondon

Being charitable to those less fortunate is a natural human trait for people of all religions and none. The Nativity story is a powerful one; a Jewish child who grows up to be the inspiration for Christianity, a prophet of Islam and a champion of other sects (Samaritans) is visited by rich Magi (probably Zoroastrians) and impoverished shepherds alike, all united by their hope of peace on Earth.

Armistice Day

November 11th is Armistice Day, which marked the end of the First World War at the 11th hour. The following Sunday is known as Remembrance Sunday. Photo of WWI Bench

Paper poppies are sold by the Royal British Legion to fund their work supporting those who have served, and their families. They are worn as a mark of respect for the sacrifice made by those who serve.photo of remembrance poppy

Blood red poppies grew in the killing fields of World War I and are a poignant symbol of the bloodshed. It is always hoped that people will learn the lessons of history.Photo of field with poppies

Victoria House

One of my early morning suburban strolls took me around the grounds of Victoria House in Hereford. A once fine building falling into dereliction.Photo of Victoria House

It was built in 1912 to accommodate the resident surgeon of the Victoria Eye Hospital. This hospital used to be next to it, but has sadly been closed and turned into residential accommodation. Victoria House was then used as an administrative centre for the local health authority. Several years ago they also moved out and the building has been left empty.Photo of Victoria House

There are plans to knock it down and build a retirement village or some such. However, many local people feel that it is an iconic and significant building. Although they failed to get it listed, they would prefer that the building be preserved and restored.Photo of Victoria House

A local school backs onto this building and they have objected to the planning proposals on the grounds that, “… if the site is developed as proposed it will back immediately onto an area within the school grounds that has been developed as an outdoor classroom and as a haven for wildlife. It highlights the importance of the area for improving children’s understanding of their environment .” I should imagine the bunny I encountered would agree!Photo of rabbitThe gulls also seem to have made a home in the chimneys.Photo of gull on chimney

I have also found that if you look for buddleia, you will find it.Photo of buddleiaOne last look while it still stands.Photo of Victoria House

Saturday Night

It is not unusual to spot people quaffing from cans on a Saturday night. Snails though ….Photo of snail on drinks can

Closer inspection shows the can contained L-Carnitine, this seems to be a substance used to increase energy and burn fat. I feel one should always be cautious of such things, if you want to know more about it, see here.

All the Fun of the Fair

Ah the sickly sweet smell of candy floss and fear; it must be the May Fair!Photo of Big Wheel Hereford May Fair

There has been a fair held in Hereford for over 900 years. It used to be known as St Ethelbert’s Fair and was run by the Bishop of Hereford. In 1838 control of the Fair was handed to the local authorities in exchange for twelve and a half bushels of wheat paid to the Bishop annually (I understand he is happy to accept a cash alternative these days).Photo of catapult ride Hereford May Fair

So for three days commencing on the Tuesday after the first Monday of May the civic buildings of the Town Hall, library and War memorial are cluttered by various stalls selling hot dogs, burgers and sweet treats, alongside traditional games such as hook-a-duck. Then there are the helter skelters, big wheels and the lunch lurching, retinal detaching catapult thingies.

There is just under five minutes of footage here at the British Pathé site of the May Fair in the 1920’s. The entertainment is more sedate and seems to be exclusively enjoyed by adults! It also looks to be pouring with rain.

Happy Easter 2016

I wish my readers, whatever their religion (or lack of one) a very happy and peaceful Easter time; fùhuójié kuàilè, Vroliik Pasen, Joyeuses Paques, Frohe Ostern, śubh īsṭar, fukkatsu-sai omedetō gozaimasu, Xristos voskres, Glad Påsk, Geseënde Paasfees and Pasg Hapus.Photo of chocolate Easter bunnies

Why bunnies (or hares) at Easter? I suspect it is because of their association with fertilitity and their abundance at this time of the year when life is springing forth all around us. Presumably the roots are Pagan (although there seems to be very little evidence for the popularly peddled reason – the existence of a goddess called Eostre with a hare consort). However, I did read somewhere that people thought rabbits could reproduce spontaneously without intercourse and so became associated with the Virgin Mary.

Personally I don’t mind what shape my chocolate comes in!

Polish Shop Signs

There have been a few Polish shops popping up in Hereford in recent years. Apart from the unfamiliar products and packaging, the most notable thing about them to my mind is their penchant for cute signs.

Painting of raspberries in basket

Sarah Miriam Peale [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

With the advent of polytunnels the local farming industry is now more intensive with longer growing seasons. Eastern Europeans, particularly Poles, make up a large part of this agricultural labour force. Many Eastern European states joined the EU in 2004 which allows for the free movement of labour. Many also work in skilled jobs such as plumbing and carpentry. Many, many years ago I did a stint of fruit picking and the labour force was mostly made up of students, housewives and travelling folk. One of these travelling folk was sacked for putting rotten raspberries at the bottom of her punnets. She cursed the farm manager with rain that would ruin his crop. Sure enough, the next day torrential rain meant that the raspberries we picked were only good for jam making. I suspect she had been listening to the weather forecast on her transistor radio.

Photo of WW2 Hurricane

“126 Adolfs” – German aeroplanes shot down by No. 303 Squadron during the Battle of Britain. Painted on a Hurricane, via Wikimedia Commons

Hereford already had a significant Polish community. In 1939 Hitler invaded Poland bringing the UK into World War II. Many Polish servicemen managed to escape to Britain where they served in the Free Polish Forces. The Polish aircrews were the second largest contingent (after the British) to fight in the Battle of Britain, the decisive campaign that ended Hitler’s ambitions to invade Britain. After helping to liberate Europe from Nazi fascism, these Poles then saw their country consumed by Stalin’s brutal communism and many elected to settle in the UK. As well as there being an RAF (Royal Air Force) base in Hereford, there was also a resettlement camp set up in Foxly, Herefordshire for Polish military personnel and their families many of whom made new lives for themselves in Herefordshire.

Easy Riders

These days we often complain about how every city centre looks the same. Big chain stores have their “brand” stamped everywhere. So it is good to see the window dressing of independent outlets.Photo of tattoo parlour window

I was taken by this tattoo parlour’s decorated skulls and steampunk motorcycles. They look just the right size for a little rambling rat too. I tried to take the photo surreptitiously in case the proprietor spotted me and convinced me to sample his wares!

Mother’s Day Primroses

Sunday 6th March is Mothering Sunday in the UK.

Back in the day, little kids could buy a primrose in a pot for 50 pence from their school as a Mother’s Day present. Mums had to feign surprise and delight, even though they had coughed up the 50 pence themselves, and had to carry the plant home after school on a Friday afternoon. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the kind and caring mums out there.

There is more information about primroses in my post Yellow Bloomers – Part Two.

World Book Day 2016

Thursday 3rd March is World Book Day in the UK. Every child in full time education is given a £1 token to spend on a range of specially produced £1 books.Photo of Aesop's Fables Book

It is also celebrated by children dressing up as their favourite characters from books. Although there have been distressing reports of disorganised parents sending their children to school dressed as pages from the Argos catalogue! The official website containing information and competitions is here.

I have rooms filled with piles of books and couldn’t possibly choose a favourite. Books are so important for providing facts and information; disseminating ideas; shaping cultural identity; providing an escape from reality; and for the sheer pleasure of reading. Some people get snooty about graphic novels, or even illustrations in a book, personally I find the two artforms complement each other perfectly. I have chosen to photograph “Aesop’s Fables”, partly because it was close to the top of the pile, it is also beautifully illustrated and the tales were a big part of my childhood. Aesop’s Fables can be read here at Project Gutenberg. Happy reading whatever you choose, even if it is only the Argos catalogue!

Happy Leap Day

Today, February 29th 2016, is an extra day for it is a “Leap Year”. My infrared camera trap caught a squirrel leaping for joy at the extra day, or maybe it was because she found some peanuts.

Every 4 years we have to add an extra day to the Gregorian calendar to catch up with the Earth’s revolution around the sun, which takes 365 days and 6 hours. On Leap Day, women are allowed to propose to men (traditionally it wasn’t the done thing otherwise). If the man refuses then he has to buy the lady 12 pairs of gloves. It seems that this all started in the 5th Century when St Bridget complained to St Patrick that men took too long to ask women to marry them, so he allowed women to do the prompting every 4 years. More worryingly, there is some debate as to whether people are working the extra day for no pay!

Candle Power

After yet another wet and windy day, we were plunged into darkness this evening by a brief power cut. So out came the candles. It is such a pleasingly romantic light. Photo of candles in glass holders

However, it is estimated that approximately 1.1 billion people in the world have no access to electricity. Imagine trying to do your homework, sewing, cooking or reading a book by candlelight.