Random Ramblings

Random Ramblings: Personal observations on a wide variety of subjects. Photographs of creatures and things that are taken on seeing the unusual as well as everyday things.

Hallowe’en, All Hallows Ev’e or plain Halloween

Halloween still remains in the cycle of the year despite its very pagan origins. Celebrated over 2000 years ago by the Celts, more in anguish than in full cheerful abandonment. There are many beliefs entwined around the 31st October, all are to do with conjuring up the dead. Pagans threw their prayers in many directions but October brought the end of their year and it carried with it such powers as to summon the dead. Superstition was commonplace and so people were terrified on this special night. Many different ways of dealing with the worry of this emerged over the years.

Perhaps we should be wary of making it into a celebration when it may be more sensible for Halloween to be forgotten – it is sometimes said that ‘it is better to let the past stay in the past.’


Hallowe'en ghost

The last day of October, ‘Halloween’ had long been forgotten and remained dormant in our history until around 1500 AD. The word ‘Hallow’ is a very old word that represents the meaning of ‘a saint’ and was therefore most probably used as Halloween, originally referred to as ‘all Hallows Eve’n’ was the day before ‘All Saints Day.’ All Saints Day was the first day of the Celtic New Year and was therefore embedded into the Celts way of life. The early Celts were afraid of the long dark period of time as nights became ever longer and the day light increasingly shorter. They believed that especially on the night before the New Year the barrier that kept the dead world away from the living world was especially thin and weak and that the stronger spirits could break through and leave their dead world to walk amongst the living. It became a custom for people to gather wood and build high fires which it was believed would help to keep the dead where they belonged and should any have escaped and be walking amongst the living, the fires would offer protection and would help to banish the escaped spirits away.

Fuchsia quandary

This year has presented a most unusual flowering pattern for the fuchsias in the garden. I try to add a few annual varieties to my little hardy collection most years. The established ones that are scattered in the borders and one or two tubs were very late in showing any kind of life at all earlier in the year. I wondered whether, in fact, they had all perished in the Winter but decided to leave them alone. Eventually I was rewarded with tiny shoots along the woody stems. Unlike last year however the flowers were very sparse indeed.

The indoor or annual varieties which were full of blooms in the nursery soon also developed into spasmodic flowering episodes. Some are now in full bloom and there appear to be more flowers on one of these ‘house’ plants than on any other time of the year.

Fuchsia - annual or house plantIndoor ‘house’ plant fuchsia

Fuchsias are really easy plants to take cuttings from. Simply snip off a stem to approximately one to two lengths of your thumb – gently remove the bottom four leaves from the stem – use a small lollipop stick or old twig as a dibber – make a hole in the soil about half a thumb or slightly longer in length – gently push in the fuchsia cutting and press either side of it to firm it into the ground – then water. When the plant has been growing for twelve weeks pinch out the top two leaves to make it bush … if a small tree is required then wait until the stem is the desired length before pinching out the top two leaves. Remember when a small tree is needed, it may be necessary to remove small stems from the bottom of the main baby trunk.

Leycesteria formosa

Leycesteria formosa has been introduced into many countries because of it offers beauty with hardiness. It is known throughout the world by many different names, the most common of which is Pheasant berry, Himalayan honeysuckle, Himalayan nutmeg or Flowering nutmeg. The plant originates from the Himalayas and areas of South-West China. This very picturesque shrub could make a lovely addition to any garden as the flowers are graceful in their formation. Small white fragile looking stars dangle daintily at the end of the dark plum leaflet trail. Bees hover around the flowers throughout the whole of July and August. Towards the end of the flowering season, deep into Autumn lush, dark, rich damson-red berry fruits hang from each small leaflet and these are prized by blackbirds.

It is a plant that loves sunshine but will do well in partial shade. Although it is known to be self-contained when planted in Britain there have allegedly been a few reports that it has become quite rampant in New Zealand.


Himalayan honeysuckle - Leycesteria formosa or Pheasant berry

Leycesteria formosa - Pheasant berry, Himalayan honeysuckle, Himalayan nutmeg, Flowering nutmeg

Pheasant berry - Himalayan honeysuckle, Leycesteria formosa, Himalayan nutmeg, Flowering nutmeg

Himalayan honeysuckle. Pheasant berry, Himalayan nutmeg, Flowering nutmeg, Leycesteria formosa ... Purple shrimp flower

Himalayan honeysuckle ... Purple shrimp flower Leycesteria formosa – also known as Himalayan honeysuckle, Pheasant berry, Himalayan nutmeg, Flowering nutmeg and loving called ‘Purple shrimp flower’

These particular plants were an unexpected find in Arrow Valley Nature Reserve in Redditch, Worcestershire, England and I personally think that they are very beautiful.

Great Reedmace at Twilight

For people who enjoy rough beauty, there is an area almost at the edge of the Worcestershire boundary called Ipsley Alders Nature Reserve. It is a beautiful stretch of land that is wild and rambling with all sorts of features for a naturalist to enjoy. One of the many plants that I found growing there was extremely tall Great Reedmace otherwise known as Bulrush … when standing close I had to crane my neck to see them against the skyline.

Great Reedmace which is also called Bulrush - taken at twilight or dusk at Ipsley, Redditch, Worcestershire, England - height approx 8 feet Great Reedmace - (Bulrush) at twilight or dusk

Great Reedmace otherwise known as Bulrush at twilight or dusk - this particular specimen was approximately 8 feet or more in height Great Reedmace or Bulrush

The female part of the plant is the fat sausage that sits towards the top of the long stem – the male is the rough area above her … when pollinated the female part of the plant releases beautiful, soft cotton silk like down which carry the seed. The plant likes to root itself in fresh water edges of lakes, ponds, rivers, canals, streams and brooks. The Latin name for this wonderful primitive looking plant is: Typha latifolia.

It has a cousin that is similar but this plant has a large fat sausage female with a short gap followed at the very top by a smaller narrow leaner sausage male – one on top of the other. This plant is called Lesser Reedmace or Lesser Bulrush. Latin name: Typha angustifolia.

Lake island

I took a stroll around Arrow Valley Lake and happened to glimpse one of the two islands that lie somewhere near to the centre of the lake. There are very few spots when they actually look like islands rather than part of the far bank landscape. This is the smaller of the two islands and the sun came out and kissed the view just in time for me to capture the beauty of it all.

Lake island - Arrow Valley Country ParkSmall lake island at Arrow Valley Country Park


Mallard are probably Britain’s most well known and loved ducks. They are found swimming and waddling on most of our waterways and lakes and are extremely social and friendly apart from one or two that are shy and always remain a discrete distance from humans. The drake is beautifully coloured and has a dark green almost iridescent head. The call of the female mallard is a very loud ‘quack’ – similar to a farmyard duck but the brightly coloured male has a weaker, softer but higher pitched call that can sound more like a squashed ‘queck querk’ some even make the noise of a faint horn ‘quarrk.’

In early Autumn several males will fly after a female and then swim round and around her displaying themselves for her to make a choice. This gentle courtship becomes more wild and rough as the season progresses and eventually males force themselves onto females in what could be described as bird ‘rapes.’ The ducks pair off early in the year and will fly to their breeding grounds …

Mallard group

Mallard female or duck

Mallard young drake 

Mallard ducks and drakes with Canada goose Mallard


Little note: the male bird is called the drake and the female the duck. The young are able to fly before they reach the age of seven weeks. They often can be seen dabbling (up-tailing) to get their food.

‘Ducks Ditty’ from Wind in the Willows

All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!

Ducks' tails, drakes' tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river! "

Slushy green undergrowth,

Where the roach swim—
Here we keep our larder,

Cool and full and dim.

Everyone for what he likes!

We like to be
Heads down, tails up,

Dabbling free!

High in the blue above,

Swifts whirl and call—
We are down a-dabbling,

Up tails all!

written by Kenneth Grahame

White aster

This beautiful, elegant daisy like flower was found adorning the water’s edge at Arrow Valley Nature Park in Redditch, Worcestershire. These pictures of the flower were taken in October and shows its snow white flowers growing in clusters at the top of long, dark leaf stems. There were so many of these plants, each tipped with their sprays of flowers that they looked breathtaking against the dark ripples of the water.

Wild White Aster - October

Wild White Aster

Wild White Aster

Copper fountain

I have recently revisited the beautiful hand-made copper fountain that resides beside the Nature Centre at Arrow Valley Nature Centre. This was lovingly created by school children and has a mixture of lilies, fish, dragonflies, great reedmace otherwise known as bulrushes and two cranes that play peepo with visitors as they rise and fall alternately. The first time that I saw the fountain I thought that the birds were herons but thankfully a reader corrected this. Original post reads …

Copper fountain Copper fountain

Thumb sucking

Thumb sucking is probably the most addictive activity that a human being can ever have knowledge of. For babies who begin gleefully sucking their thumbs in protection of the womb it releases the wonderful uplifting chemicals within the brain. Infants and young children who carry on the carefree habit enjoy the comfort and the feeling of well being. Serotonin flowing to ease the stresses and worries and make the world a much brighter place.

Yet – thumb sucking is frowned upon when a child grows but perhaps it shouldn’t be. In fact, should more research be done to see whether this simple, free activity could be the answer to many adults who take masses of drugs to counteract stress. Many are advised to take 5-HTP Serotonin Tonic – Happy Days … perhaps all they need is to follow their childhood instinct.



Thumb sucking

Heart of oak

Come cheer up, my lads,
'tis to glory we steer,
To add something more
To this wonderful year,
To honour we call,
Not to press you like slaves,
For who are so free
As the sons of the waves?

       Heart of oak are our ships,
   Jolly tars are our men,
   We always are ready,
   Steady, boys, steady,
   We'll fight and we'll conquer
   Again and again.

We ne'er see our foes …
But we wish them to stay,
They never see us
But they wish us away,
If they run, why we follow,
And run them ashore,
And if they won't fight us,
We cannot do more.

       Heart of oak are our ships,
   Jolly tars are our men,
   We always are ready,
   Steady, boys, steady,
   We'll fight and we'll conquer
   Again and again.

They swear they'll invade us,
These terrible foes,
They frighten our women,
Our children and beaus,
But should their flat bottoms
In darkness get o'er,
Still Britons they'll find
To receive them on shore.

       Heart of oak are our ships,
   Jolly tars are our men,
   We always are ready,
   Steady, boys, steady,
   We'll fight and we'll conquer
   Again and again.

Our worthy forefathers,
Let's give them a cheer,
To climates unknown,
Did courageously steer.
Through oceans to deserts,
For freedom they came,
And dying, bequeathed us
Their freedom and fame.

Heart of oak are our ships,
   Jolly tars are our men,
   We always are ready,
   Steady, boys, steady,
   We'll fight and we'll conquer
   Again and again.

Written by David Garrick in the year of our Lord 1759

Quercus robur – the English Oak



The oak is the backbone of Britain and there is much in our history to show how important this beautiful ancient tree is. The English oak lives up to 800 years some occasionally reach a few years more. It is a hard wood deciduous tree and has been protected for hundreds of years – this applies whether it has an accidental birth through an odd fall of an acorn or has been purposely planted. Permission must always be sort to fell an oak - even if it is on your land and may be close to your home, growing perhaps just a few feet from your own front door – you cannot chop it down.

Oak tree with acorns

An oak with acorns

There are many legends entangled in the history of the oak tree. It was considered to be one of the most sacred of trees ‘the tree that the gods sought out in the mighty storms.’ It is thought that in ancient times, lightening was (and in fact still is) attracted by the tallest of the oaks which would often split down the trunk at the centre of the tree and so become ‘touched’ by the gods. The wood of the tree would thus be considered to be very special timber with exceptional powers of strength and durability.

Oaks were used to build British ships hundreds of years ago but they reached their most dangerous in their swiftness and sureness when copper was attached to their prow. Rather like modern athletes requiring sleekness for speed – ancient ship builders found that by adding copper the prow of the ship kept clear of life (not one barnacle would attach itself to the copper and this kept the line of the ship sharp and it was able to cut through the water with frightening aggression). It was both the oak and it’s copper adornment that gave Britain the edge as the 80 English galleons chased the Spanish Armada.

Sedum Ice Plant

Autumn races like a fit athlete with the finishing line in sight, bringing daily changes. One plant that shows the pace of the call of Winter is the Sedum Ice Plant. It often hardly opens its tiny pink star petal flowers barely enough for the honey bees to sip its nectar. Many of these small perfect flower formations remain tinged with green, right up until the moment when the roots begin to suck the faint frothy colour away and replace it with a deeper bloody pink pallet as it slowly dies. Eventually each petal becomes brown and crisp, not dried by the sun but scorched by death. The flower heads and stems will remain upright all through the Winter and stand to attention like soldiers on parade until the following Summer if not pruned neatly back.

The dried flower heads are useful additions to Winter flower arrangements and can be sprayed different colours including gold or silver with a sprinkle of glitter for Christmas table decorations.

Sedum Ice Plant Sedum Ice Plant in the sun

Sedum Ice Plant - with basking honey bees 

Sedum Ice Plant - mid October

Sedum Ice Plant

Thick thorny thistles

So many things are happening at this time of year that it is useful to take a camera everywhere you go. I found this field that had much of the land covered in thistle and thistledown.

Thistles in seed 

Thistles Thistles full of thistledown

The soft silky thread of the thistledown is called pappus which forms as tiny parachutes with a seed attached. The feathery parachute is blown in the wind sometimes for many miles before depositing itself softly onto loose soil where it eventually becomes a new thistle plant.

Ye olde English pond

One day whilst walking through a densely wooded area I came across an ancient pond. I had heard about it many times but until now had never actually seen it. Often locations of such treasures are kept secret. As others that have accidentally stumbled upon it (if not into it) have done in the past, I too will keep its hiding place sealed.

Ye olde Englsih Pond

  Ye olde English pond – somewhere in Worcestershire

This pond is set in quiet rural beauty with birds singing in the surrounding trees. Despite looking almost stagnant in appearance the pond water smells as sweet and fresh as a mountain stream. It is the home of local amphibians and a water hole to the mammals that roam on the long grassy carpeted floor.

Trail of the lonesome pine

This beautiful tree stands alone … tall, graceful and magnificent. The first time that I saw it I thought of Laurel and Hardy singing ‘In the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia on the trail of the lonesome pine.’ It is lovely and sturdy and must surely have been climbed by a hundred school boys, or may be more. The only thing that is missing from the picture is a red squirrel …. but we no longer have enough pine trees to support these beautiful animals in Worcestershire.


Pine tree

Pine tree at Arrow Valley Lake

Pine tree

Laurel & Hardy … singing

Coot shoot

As a child one of my favourite little water birds was the moorhen and I can remember seeing a coot for the very first time and wondering if it was, in fact, a moorhen with a white head! Here is a coot shoot … a few pictures of a lovely, friendly little water bird donning a very charming white top knot.

Coot -facing forward Coot

Coots - this way and that  Coots

Gaggle of geese

As a young child I can remember the thrill of my father telling me that every group of animals had a special name that they were called. Most children’s first knowledge of such names is when they are told to ‘look at a flock of birds,’ or ‘watch the shoal of fish swimming in the water.’ The more of these fascinating expressions that I learnt the more I craved to know.

A gaggle of Canada geese A gaggle of Canada geese

Solitary Canada gooseSolitary Canada goose

The list is so numerous – a pod of dolphins; a nest of snakes; a dray of squirrels; a pack of dogs; a knot of toads; a mischief of mice; a prickle of porcupines; a bed of oysters; a loveliness of ladybirds; a bloat of hippopotami; a coalition of cheetahs; and should you ever see dragons well they have a special name too - a weyr of dragons! Of course the list is much longer than this … which one is your favourite collective name?

Postal strip scam

Wherever you may live in the world … watch out!! There is a new and most dreadful scam that is swift, skilful and chilling to the bone. It has been created by the ability of having post re-directed. Unknown to the individual (which could be you) scammers are re-directing post and by doing so are coming into possession with everything they need to empty bank accounts; apply for umpteen brand new credit cards and purchase whatever they like in an applicant’s name; to destroy peoples credit ratings; to literally become you if only for between a few days to a few months … It is something that can happen at any time even whilst you may be on vacation so always be vigilant. Report potential post losses to the postal service and check to see if your address has been altered on their mail lists. Be ready to cancel credit and debit cards. Check with utility companies if bills appear to be late. Guard yourself from this form of identity theft by keeping notes when you expect important mail deliveries to arrive.

Post - billsBills and post

First phone photographs

I am probably behind most as it has taken me until now to be in possession of a phone that takes pictures … here are my very first two attempts.

1st phone pic Very first phone picture – Canadian goose + tip of finger!

2nd phone picSecond phone picture – Canada geese, Mallard female and young, Moorhens with one youngster and in the background a solitary Magpie … one feather floating mid air!


Yorkshire is a beautiful county … it has all kinds of beauty from the most simple, stark scenery, to areas where you simply have to catch your breath and wonder how it could have all been sculptured by nature so perfectly.

Whitby is an ancient town that stands on the North-East coast of Yorkshire. It is unique. Noted for its jet and for the birth of Dracula … it is the one place that everyone should try and visit once in their lifetime.

Jet is the beautiful hard stone-like semi-precious jewel that was formed in pre-historic times from the Monkey Puzzle tree. It is actually pre-historic driftwood that has been squashed and submerged on the seabed; an ancient coal that has been mined at Whitby for its value as a jewel; popularised by Queen Victoria when she went into mourning over the death of Prince Albert. Tourists to the area of Whitby often find small pieces of it on the beach and unlike many other precious artefacts which are treasure-trove, these lovely deep black jewels are ‘finders keepers!’

Whitby is known as the birth place of Dracula. The ancient, still Abbey that sits on the hill was the place where Bram Stoker feasted his eyes and conjured up the character of Dracula. Whitby, the English Transylvania and the Abbey with its cold, crooked grave stones - ooze the dank, darkness of chilling fangs after the long climb of the stone steps from the town up to the ancient Abbey. Only in the twilight does the shudder of the ghosts caress the tourists.

Whitby Jet

Whitby Jet


Hogweed, the cream broad beautiful flower that sits on tall hollow stems … ah yes, this is the plant – the free toy for the school boy.

In the countryside, boys will often break off the stem of the hogweed plant, once it has flowered and the stems dry out. This then becomes a pea-shooter and they will use the haws from the hawthorn plant or any other seed that will serve as a would-be pea. Then they simply make a small firing range … sometimes this will consist of dried teasel heads placed precariously on a wooden fence other times it might be the dried heads and stems of a variety of annuals. The winner is the one who can knock down the most items with the least amount of ammunition!




Hogweed is a perennial and grows up to two metres in height. It is useful in flower arrangements due to its natural habit of standing erect.

Family planning

As a child, it was commonplace to hear adults talking and littering their conversations with old wives’ sayings. Many are no longer used and yet some hold little gems of wisdom. One such saying always puzzled me …

‘Never let a man eat liquorice if you wish for a family!’

I am still puzzled by this one … but many a wife has withdrawn this particular sweet from her husband’s grasp in the past so perhaps there is something in it – who knows!!

Pumpkin flower

Every year when potting out my tubs, baskets and odd flowerpots with plants I usually use a mixture of commercial potting compost and the rich dark loam produced by my own compost bins. Once in a while this gives me some unusual surprises. Here is this year’s surprise … a happy pumpkin plant nestling alongside the geraniums and fuchsia in one of my baskets. The little pumpkin plant has now come into flower …


Pumpkin flower

Yellow Pumpkin flower

Pumpkin flower

I have several of these pumpkin plants along with tomato plants dotted around the garden where I have spread the rich soil produced in the compost bin!

The Mexican daisy

I was following the path of a low, gurgling Worcestershire river one day during the Summer. All along its edge there were daisies happily bobbing and dancing in the breeze. It was a lovely sight. The wind tousled my hair and flicked at my dress, as I walked along the bank. Then I came across one little daisy plant that had been disturbed. It was looking decidedly limp. The soil was rubbed up like pastry crumbs and the roots were exposed. I decided to hold the plant and gently pull – if the plant came up easily then I would re-plant it at home but if it offered resistance then I would firm around it in the hope that it would survive. It hadn’t rained in quite a while so it’s survival would depend on an odd shower or two to water the roots. It came up quite easily so I wrapped it in a bit of polythene and placed it in the boot of the car …

It survived quite well in my garden and now is a small and handsome plant.

Mexican Daisy or Fleabane was first introduced into Britain around 1830 and added to gardens as a border plant. As the name suggests it was discovered in Mexico and shipped overseas. It then became a ‘garden escape’ and coped well with the British weather and now can be found growing wild. It is easily recognisable as buds and young flowers are deep pink, gradually changing and becoming snow white in the fully opened, older flower. Each flower daintily adorns a slender, fine, long stem which has a tendency to wave about in light breezes.

Mexican daisy - Fleabane

Mexican daisy - Fleabane

Evening Primrose

I have a special affection for Evening Primrose. Years ago I saw a packet of seeds for a large flowered but dwarf variety of Evening Primrose, I believe they are called Oenothera missouriensis – I managed to grow a couple of plants and have enjoyed their blooms ever since. This wonderful, tropical looking, bright yellow flower blooms from early Summer until the frost and is now at its most beautiful.

Evening Primrose - rockery  

Evening Primrose - short rockery variety

Dwarf Evening Primrose 

The plants have always remained fairly compact once they reached this particular size so have never required thinning out or cutting back. For those who prefer the traditional Common Evening Primrose, then note that they are not perennial as with those above but are biennial, flowering on the second year of growth before dying back. The larger ones are Oenothera biennis and unusually for flowers they only open on dull days and evenings.

Nurture your soul …

Of all the months of the year this is definitely the one to say “white rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits!” It is the month when we all need good fortune. It was the month that many a mother dreaded in times gone by because it is renowned for bringing pains and ill health to the family.

Many of the old sayings that were often linked to October have long since been forgotten. People’s way of dressing and eating have changed so much in the last sixty years or so that we no longer recognize the threat the tenth month of the year poses.

As a child there would often be elderly folk, leaning on walking sticks and grinding their teeth that would come out with sayings that were never said at any other part of the year. It is easy to forget the menace of October with central heating being just a flip of a switch away … but perhaps, knowing that all of us eventually go outside of our warm buildings, should take heed.

Here are a few distant sayings from the past … think very, very hard and you may just remember either every phrase or just the odd word or two from your childhood:

“Nurture the soul – let us be clear, take care of yourself – October is here!”

* * *

“Keep your pennies in a jar over the fireplace.”

* * *

“A cold caught in October leaves a sore chest until the Spring!”

* * *

“Aches that are born today remain with the body all Winter through.”

White Bryony - berries

White Bryony berries

White Bryony – a perennial creeper of England – the first picture shows the lush green leaves that are plush with scarlet berries. The second shows the creeper dying back but still bejewelled with ruby red berries. In the Spring, the plant has pretty tiny white star-like flowers.

Note: In years gone by it was the custom to lay someone out in the front room or parlour until funeral arrangements were sorted. One penny was placed onto each eye in belief that this would pay for a person's soul to reach Heaven. Hence 'Keep your pennies in a jar over the fireplace or mantelpiece' to make sure if unexpected death occurred there would always be enough pennies to ensure safe passage to Heaven.