Archives for the month of: April, 2009

vesle-as-zebraWhen they’ve been sheared, the goats wear coats for a couple of weeks.  It’s just to allow enough time for their wool to grow out a little bit so they won’t get cold.  Immediately following a shearing, the other goats seem to pretend not to recognise their colleague underneath her new look; each sheared member of the flock has to reestablish her position in the heirarchy.  Being the smallest, Vesla has the hardest time.  You would think that being bottom of the heap would mean she doesn’t have much of a position to reestablish, but it doesn’t work that way.  She gets butted for a day or two and has to take part in lots of five-minute challenge matches.

With this in mind, a few years ago my wife made Vesla a special coat from some zebra-striped fabric she’d bought on sale in Olso.  When the others saw her, they absolutely freaked.  ‘What the hell is this?’ they seemed to be saying, while Vesla trotted around going ‘I’m a zebra, I’m a zebra’.  It worked very well.  This is the only picture I can find of Vesla in her zebra coat.  You can see the effect better on Alma, who got one too.


What I said in answer to mab’s question the other day — it was about how to remove all the grass and seeds that accumulate in the wool of the goats — what I replied was utter rubbish, according to my wife.  I think I might have said that we card the wool with a wire brush before we spin it.  Well, we don’t.  Nope, that would completely ruin it.  To have this lovely wool and then destroy it’s … by … would, in fact, be a crime.  She told me the details, but I’ve forgotten and now she’s busy.  I’ll ask again later.  I do remember she said we comb the wool rather than card it and we pick out the shriveled blades of grass and seeds by hand.

An ornithology guidebook called Birds of the West Indies , by James Bond was where Ian Fleming claimed to have found the name for his spy.  “I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find, and ‘James Bond’ was much better than something more interesting, like ‘Peregrine Carruthers’.  Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure — an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department,” he said in a Readers’ Digest interview.  

 I am ready to show you some pictures of birds of Mauritius, taken by our correspondent in the Indian Ocean, handsome French spy Siganus Sutor.  What kind of a name is that, Curruthers?  Would Sig’s pictures be more credible coming from a dull, plain-sounding alias?   No.tda-crique

I suppose this must be where the birds live.

algae-and-filao-as-a-birds-homeSeaweed and algæ as birdsnest.


A baby bird hiding under a baby veloutier.

The white seabird below is the rare l’oiseau la vierge, or White Tern  (sometimes Fairy Tern, but that’s also a different bird) (Gygis alba). It gets its French name fron its blue feet, which evoke ‘the favourite colour’ of the Virgin Mary. You can just see the moon by the tip of her wing in the bottom of the three pictures.  It lives for 17 years and it’s related to the noddies.  (L’oiseau la vierge in Réunion is a completely different looking brown-coloured bird, according to Wiki.)







Lastly this bird , the curlew — le corbijeau —  photographed here on Sig’s roof, migrates to and from Norway every year.  I’m hoping to get a picture of her on my roof later this Norwegian spring.corbijeau-2008

Nijma asked me the other day if goats climb trees. They do, although most are not as extreme as this Moroccan herd:goats-in-trees-photoshot-510x566You can see more of them in this video.

The Moroccan herds only climb one sort of tree and they do it because they’re especially fond of its fruit. The tree is the Argan, which grows up to 10 metres high.  Its thorny, twisted branches make it fairly easy for goats to climb (unfortunately you can’t see this in the video, they are only jumping out).  The fruit is supposed to be ‘similar to an olive’, though I’m not sure how.

1280px-argania_spinosa1The farmers — Berbers of the Sous valley in S.W. Morocco —  follow their goats from tree to tree, collecting the nut inside the fruit, which the goats spit out or excrete. The kernels are ground up to make argan oil which is used for cooking and in cosmetics.  More about the Argan tree at Wikipedia.


By a tremendous coincidence there is an article about goats in trees and  argan oil in today’s Dagbladet, a Norwegian daily newspaper.  Even if you don’t understand the text, the pictures are worth looking at.  Saturday 25 April 2009.

100-acre-woodI often take the dogs for a walk past this little timber yard that has been set up by the local council.  Unemployed people can have temporary jobs chopping down trees and chopping up wood, which is then bagged and sold as firewood — very good firewood, it’s mostly ash and other hardwood that they have cleared from adjacent council-administered land.  It’s a good idea, I suppose, but the irony is that about ten years ago the council put up the sign in the foreground; it says ‘Hundremetersskogen‘, a loose metric translation into Norwegian of  The Hundred-Acre Wood, from Winnie The Pooh.  In those days, the authorities must have envisaged this spot as a wooded glade for children; I don’t know what made them change their minds.  

Opposite the sign I saw these blåveis and  they put me back in a good mood.  I think they are hepatica, in English — also called liverwort, they’re a kind of anemone.  Quite soon the woods will be covered with them.woodanemonies

A couple of days ago, from under four feet of snow appeared this, our outdoor dining table. The top is one massive slab of oak that my wife got for next to nothing ten years ago, while they were clearing up at our local timber yard (est. 1660 with a water-driven sawmill next to a waterfall). Last year I built it a new base to go with the bench. The bench I made years ago; it has been a big success, insofar as a bench can be successful. Everything is very solid, table and bench function well together and I like the way they look — they fulfill Vitruvius’s criteria of firmitatis utilitatis venustatis, translated in 1624 by Henry Wotton into a maxim known to all architects, ‘”Well building hath three conditions: firmness, commodity and delight”.alex

That’s not a rat in the foreground; it’s Alex, our fourteen-year-old Yorkshire terrier — in dog years, he’s well over five-hundred-years old.

There will be no more trains today due to the weather. It’s a lovely day, so I’ll be spending it outside. I have lots of posts I’ve been thinking about for the coming week, though, so don’t go away. There are more pictures from Mauritius, too.

Now that we have two dogs, I’ve noticed that it is of the utmost interest to them which of us goes through doorways first. Topsy sits ready to go out by the front door, but she won’t move unless I go through the doorway before her. Similarly, Alex, who is much older but very small, always makes way for Topsy — Topsy has precedence, apparently. I never noticed how they resolved that. The same delicate rigmarole takes place between all of us at the front gate. It’s done casually, but it’s important to them.

It’s probably cheating to post other people’s posts,  but if you haven’t read this translation by Language Hat of a poem by Nikolai Gumilev  then do so now:
Today I can see that your look is especially sad
And your arms are especially fragile, as if made of chaff.
Listen, my dear: far away, by the shores of Lake Chad,
Roams the exquisite giraffe.

It was granted the gift of proportion, voluptuous grace,
And its skin is adorned with a pattern remarkably fine:
Only the moon, smashed to pieces, descended from space
To rock in lake water, could dare try to match its design.

From afar it resembles a caravel’s colorful sail,
And its gait is as smooth as the frigatebird’s radiant flight.
I know the world sees many wonders in all their detail
When it takes to a grotto of marble for refuge at night.

I know all those stories of maidens who’ve never been kissed
And of passionate princes who rule a mysterious plain,
But you have inhaled for too long the lugubrious mist,
You no longer desire to believe anything but the rain.

And how can I tell you of faraway creatures that pad
Among tropical palms, among flowers too fragrant by half…
You’re crying? But listen: far off, by the shores of Lake Chad,
Roams the exquisite giraffe.

    —Nikolai Gumilev (tr. Stephen Dodson)


The view from Mauritius.

(You are looking at the centre section.  If you click on it you can get the whole thing up  in a new window.)

This bird is a noddy.  


Noddy is a tropical seabird.  I didn’t know that. Here are more noddies, standing in a queue. (Click to see the whole picture in another window.)


That’s better.  I needed a holiday.

In the name of peace, this autumn my daughter’s class is being taken on the annual tenth-grade school trip to Poland and Germany. It’s an eight-day bus tour of nazi concentration camps, organised by a group called Travel For Peace. It is voluntary, but every child in her year has signed up to take part. It begins with three days in Poland. They see the sights of Krakow and afterwards they’re taken through Auschwitz and Birkenau and visit the infamous railhead. Next, they go down the salt mines at Wieliczka; and then it’s onward to Germany, where they spend the first day at an amusement park called Tropical Islands. That’s followed by a tour of Berlin: Unter den Linden, the Brandenburg Gate, the Ku’damm, Potsdam, and so on, with a detour to a former Staasi prison in the afternoon. Their last day is spent at Sachsenhausen, in Oranienburg, on the outskirts of Berlin, and the women’s camp at Ravensbrück. And then it’s everybody back on the bus for the long ride home to Norway.

Although we’ve agreed to it, I don’t know how I really feel about the trip. Is a sightseeing bus tour for teenagers trivialising the holocaust? No. If this were a group of fifty-year-olds, I’d wonder a bit: why the ironic itinerary? why so many camps? But teenagers need distractions, the irony of making an amusement park visit on the way to KZ Sachsenhausen won’t be lost on them and a full tour will give them a fuller picture of what happened, probably. Even so, my daughter has never been indifferent to suffering and so I’m not sure how the trip will help her. Besides that, being against concentration camps and nazis is not the same as being in favour of peace. I hope the history is taught with subtlety rather than platitudes.

It’s an expensive holiday: nearly a thousand US dollars, plus spending money. That won’t cover all the costs; so we, the parents, have been asked to sell things. During the Christmas holidays we were supposed to sell chocolate biscuits: my daughter was alloted eight tins. They were pretty good, and by the time she went back to school we had eaten the lot. We had to pay for them ourselves, but it was worth it. The fact is that none of us had the nerve to go knocking on doors, trying to sell our neighbours chocolate biscuits — let alone in the name of peace, and let alone to pay for a tour of the death camps. Today I got an email from the organisers asking me to suggest other ways to raise money. Anything, just so I don’t have to go to the local shopping mall on Saturdays begging for spare change. I’m going to propose selling off the school’s parking lot to build housing; that should cover a few years’ worth of trips to Poland. They’ll never do it, and I don’t really blame them.

Alma gave Misty a trim; it was only to her head for now. She looks much better in my opinion.
Compare this one misty21with the picture below…

By April the goats are very shaggy.  Their mohair fleece is certainly long enough to cut; Misty’s gone totally rasta. It’s only the threat of a cold spell that stops us from shearing — actually, it’s clipping; we use a pair of hairdresser’s scissors.
Last time, in October, we left Vesle alone. We cut twice a year, but she was shivering last autumn and we were worried she would be too cold during the winter. Now she has a full year’s growth and she looks like a bearded collie.
She usually goes all floppy and Ghandi-like when we try to do anything to her — a dead weight — but today she just stepped right up.
You can see her wool has got seeds and bits of hay fastened in it; I’m sure it itches.
Though Vesle was keen at the start, in the picture below you can see the battle of wills that has been going on since she stepped into the salon. Ms Passive-Resistance thinks she’s winning. Even so, her haircut was completed in under an hour — that’s pretty fast going for us (the world record for sheep shearing with mechanical clippers is held by a New Zealander, it’s under two minutes/sheep).
ves-looks-defiant1In this picture you can also see the length of the wool. One year’s worth of Vesle’s finest mohair, it’s nearly eight inches long, or 20cm.

Now comes the odd bit…
…When she’s clipped, Vesle changes from being a fat little goat into this waif:
She’s tiny without her coat; only slightly bigger than Topsy.
Size isn’t everything. Vesle had a tough basic training from her larger peers, almost literally a survival course. A stronger-willed goat would be hard to find.

Yesterday I showed some photographs my grandfather took.  In one, his caption was of the car’s licence plate rather than his human subjects (namely his wife and daughter) and Robin asked if there were any explanation for his behavior.  The short answer is no, but going through the photo album I see he’s done it several times, starting with this one of my grandmother in JO 24.  It’s been beautifully polished by him (the tin of polish is on the running board) and it has an open sun roof.  The picture was taken at Thame, near Oxford, in the late nineteen-twenties.


Though he died when I was only three, even I know some of his licence plate numbers.  Once in  the ’70s, while I was waiting for a bus on Highgate Hill in London, JO 24 zoomed past.  By then it had got itself hitched to a brand-new maroon Rolls Royce.

Later they moved to a very grand house at Diss, in Norfolk.  Here, at Norwich market, is his car sometime in the mid-thirties, standing next to his brother-in-law’s model (that’s my mother, by the way, almost blocking Tom’s car).


My grandfather had retired at forty-five.  When my mother was about ten he took my grandmother and the two children on a year-long world tour. They returned to England because of the Munich crisis, otherwise I wonder whether the children would have ever gone to school again.  He made this observation during their sojourn in Australia: car-in-queensland

‘No number plates on front in Queensland’.  Nothing about Bonnie and Clyde (that’s who it looks like they were passing), just the essentials of local auto regulation.  

They spent some time in the town of Warwick in Queensland — I would call this house a bungalow, except I don’t think is quite — where he photographed his two children in the back of  the Chevrolet he’d bought for the journey, good old 257 760.img_9367


There are more.  People clearly had a different feeling about cars back then.  My grandfather was an electrical engineer and I think he loved technology in a way most of us don’t any more.  My daughter asked me what our licence number is the other day and I didn’t know, though I think it’s got a D in it.

Language Hat has written a piece about bungalows and how people feel about this old-fashioned word nowadays.   For me it’s two things: there’s the John Lennon song Bungalow Bill, a pun about Buffalo Bill living in (in my mind, at least) an English suburban red-brick bungalow.  The other is what was always know in my family as ‘The’ Bungalow.  

My uncle, in the foreground, in 1927.  The bungalow was always painted cream colour, with pale green trim.

My uncle, in the foreground, in 1927. The bungalow was always painted cream with pale green trim.

One of my great-grandmother’s seven children had rheumatoid arthritis, a horrible chronic disease that left him paralyzed.  His doctors recommended that he get some sea air and so during the First World War my great-grandmother built a little summer house by the sea in Norfolk.   She died at 45, in the great flu epidemic of 1918 and my great-grandfather died a couple of years later.  The children moved themselves down to the bungalow and ran wild there for nearly two years — or until someone complained about the gramophone they were playing in the garden.  That led to an aunt returning them to captivity. When they grew up they spent their holidays there with their own families (there were four or five bedrooms, but it was one of those small summer houses that could absorb lots of visitors).

Note the expression on my great-aunt's face; this was traditional, because of the water temperature

Note the expression on my great-aunt's face. This was because of the water temperature.

 I went there as a child too, there was always a strong East wind that originated someplace like Siberia or Sweden– swimming in the North Sea was a bracing ordeal that I never want to repeat — but there were rock-pools and a lovely lagoon with crabs.  

The Norfolk coastline is subject to constant erosion; arriving at the bungalow after the winter storms the first thing to do was see how much of ‘the plot’ had dropped into the sea since last time you were there.  Twenty years ago, the bungalow was finally sold by the last of the children (Betty, my great-aunt, in the bathing suit, above) to some families of Hassidim.  Later this century it will disappear.

All these photographs were taken by my grandfather.  In this picture below — of his wife (my grandmother) and daughter (my mother) — his caption is about the vehicle licence plates.  He’s done it in several other pictures too.  


I said before that there’s a lake below our house.  From the air it’s roughly an equilateral triangle, one kilometre’s walk on each side.  Last year I walked it nearly every day with Topsy the dog — now that the snow’s melting we’ll resume soon — and each side is different..   This is the view from the south, of a sunset.  


I don’t enjoy the south side, because there’s a gravel road alongside the lake.  Every five minutes a diesel van comes along spewing exhaust and kicking up dust.  Then we walk the western side.  There is a horse-farm half way along, where they serve teas every Wednesday (the farmers, obviously).  This is the view looking across to our house on a grim day last autumn:

Then I noticed these trees…trees-tops1

Nearby I found a collection of leaves floating on the water.  It looked like a treasure trove.leaves-money

 Past the waterfall…waterfall

And then along a very short northern side which has a view to a small island that I photograph and even swim to in summer… 



and walk over to in the winter when the ice gets firm.  



I’ve got tons of photographs of the profile of this island that I’ve taken over the years. Big ones, small ones; one day I’m planning to do something with them, I haven’t figured out what, yet. While I take pictures, Topsy is thinking of only one thing…
The dog run. It’s half way down the east side of the lake:
Unless there’s a greyhound she’s the fastest, and she loves being chased:
Next door to the dog run is the beach with its diving board floating fifty metres out. On summer evenings there are families here, the children are swimming while their parents grill sausages (a seasonal Norwegian obsession).
Alma comes down here occasionally. The truth is there isn’t much of a beach here when the lake is full. It’s very deep, apparently…
By now we’re nearly home. We’ve probably been away about an hour-and-a-half. You can glimpse the lake through the trees in the garden: cherry, greengage and pear, and spruce below them.

Here are some more photographs of life on the other side of the planet (other side from me, anyway).  The comments are from our own correspondent, Siganus Sutor.

A bunch of young tendraks that I photographed about two years ago in the Black River gorges
In 2006 there was a seal that decided to spend some time ashore on the west coast. People went quite wild about it. (I don’t think that a seal had ever been seen on a beach in Mauritius before.)


There are also some monstrous creatures that “grow” in our garden…

…and which the dog loves to attack.
Finally, Sig sent a picture of a snail to which I’ve added one of his local goats, for scale.  They’re the biggest snails I’ve ever seen.  We can ask Dearieme, but I’d imagine a family of Scotspersons could dine on one of these for a week (roast snail, cold roast snail, snail sandwiches, etc.)

Well, perhaps not actually in it, although he’s mentioned octopus fishing from time to time — I’m sure many readers of Language Hat have wondered about Siganus Sutor’s life in Mauritius, the French-speaking island near(ish) to Madagascar.  Sig, who is a structural engineer as well as a polyglot is obviously too busy to write his own blog, so I thought I could post some photos he’s taken of their local wildlife, including the foot-long local snails.  I’ll post more if he sends me more.  Here’s what he sent me:crapaud-4420091

In the garden we have loads of toads. Snails too. An odd tendrak (a kind of hedgehog) visits us every now and then. Every afternoon we have two bats that hang themselves in one tree in front of the kitchen door and at night their cousins often come and make a hell of a noise. (Either they are fighting for our litchis or longans, or they are mating. I’ve never dared go outside in the dark to check.) We have parakeets flying past, and bulbuls in their hundreds too.

(I hadn’t heard of Longans or  tendraks.  Apparently it’s tenrec in English. AJP)  chauves-souris-442009

Close up:



Martians call snails courtpas, literally “do-not-run”. They are not quite one foot long.


I wonder if there is only one snail in that foot-long shell, or if it’s an apartment building.  Either way, I’d like to see the resident.

Yesterday, my Icelandic-horse owning daughter and I spent seven-and-a-half hours at an Icelandic horse event, almost a race.  The horses all had names like: Hraunar fra Kirkjuferjuhjaleigu and Galdur frá Auðsholtsháleigu, and I can’t tell you who won.  I didn’t think to bring my camera, but it was like this video, except in two respects.  The first is that it took place at our local ice rink where they usually play ice hockey — I still don’t understand why this was on ice, but never mind about that, it didn’t affect their performance.  The second is that it wasn’t proper racing, it was a knock-out competition, four horses at a time.  There were three experts who judged the horses according to ‘how well’ they tølted — the tølt being a smooth and rhythmic ambling gait that Icelandic horses have in addition to being able to walk, trot , canter and gallop.  The WEIRD thing about tølting — you can see it in the You-tube video of a tølt race linked above — is that the rider remains seated.  The ride is so smooth that they never rise out of the saddle, no matter how fast the horse is going.  They look as if they’re driving bumper cars.

We were an audience of one thousand; people had come from all across Scandinavia, but it may not have been for everyone.  The organisers ran out of baguettes after half-an-hour and there was VERY loud music while the horses were tølting round the ice rink.  Since it’s an annual event, I think next year they might try playing more than just the one cd.  We heard YMCA, by The Village People, and ‘Smoke on the Water’ about four times an hour, for seven hours.

Wiki: Escargot IPA: [ɛs.kaʁ.ɡɔ] is the French word for snail. It is related to Occitan escaragol and Catalan cargol, which in turn may derive from a pre-Roman word karakauseli.  

According to Siganus Sutor, in Mauritius snails are called courtpas in Creole, literally “do-not-run”. In Norway, both slugs and snails are called snailer.  Not all snails can be eaten, the eating kind is usually Helix pomatia although, as Sig said, mostly you’re just tasting garlic butter.  You’d be better off with bread and garlic butter.  Here it is:


There are lots of escargots in our garden in the summer.  I mean escargots: not just any old snails, but the ones that get eaten by Frenchpersons.  Some years ago, a local man saw a business opportunity and started an escargot hatchery.  He was going to supply the French restaurants in Oslo and turn Norway into the escargot-eating capital of Scandinavia, but his plan wasn’t properly thought through, and after a couple of years he went belly up.  At that point, apparently, he dumped his — whatever — flock of snails out on the ground and let them run away.  In subsequent years they bred very successfully, and now they are all over the place.  They are wonderful, I love them.  It is a complete lie that they eat up your garden, they don’t significantly touch it.

Here are Holly and Misty when they were one-year-olds.

Height rules in butting.  I suppose the blurry bits show that having been on their back legs now they were coming back down.   This is just butting for the hell of it.  Practise, practise, practise.


After lots of bureaucratic hassle — goats need official goat-papers if they are to cross the county boundary — we bought our three-month old angora goats from a wonderful farm about an hour’s drive from where we live.p5100319Misty above and Holly & Misty below.

p5100321They had to be three months old before they could be moved. We visited them almost from the day they were born (this one is Misty).


There’s a museum where they have a collection of  old buildings, down the road from us.  This is an early fire station.  I wondered if the goats couldn’t live in something like it, but it turned out they need full enclosure — not from the cold, they just hate draughts.


We rebuilt an existing garage to house them.


I don’t enjoy carpentry — becoming an architect was meant to be a way of avoiding it — I think it’s boring, but we needed a goat house…


It gets quite humid inside.  In the winter, the condensation freezes on the windows…


and makes lovely crystal patterns…


Snow Leopard asked what we do with the wool.  In the post below this you can see, in the Christmas picture, on the left hand side, the corner of a spinning wheel that my wife spins yarn on.  In this picture Misty is wearing a scarf that my daughter knitted from her wool (they dyed it using some sort of natural dye, a yellow flower) — and jolly warm and soft it is too, I wear it in very cold weather.


That’s a really good shot above of our bright-yellow wood chipper, or whatever they’re called — branch and twig eaters — before I smashed the plastic casing by dropping a bale of hay on it.  Those were the days.  Anyway, below is a close-up of the coat of a newly-sheared goat.  The softest wool comes from young goats, except for Vesle (top right in the above picture), whose wool will always be the top quality.


My good friend Jim (of Caviar and Codfish, on my blogroll) asked if the goats ever come indoors, and of course they do…pc310038Holly eating a waffle.


And at Christmas they come in for a glass of sherry and a piece of Christmas pudding.  This is Holly again, always the last one to leave.

I swore I wouldn’t do this.  Here is a rather sweet picture of Misty when she was young.holly

In the summer our goats mostly eat leaves, but of course there haven’t been any proper leaves for five months.  Over the past few weeks I have cut down about fifteen christmas trees for them.  Although they munch needles and branches it’s mostly the bark they want —  I think they’re after the sap: it’s sticky and bitter (horrible bitter chewing gum, I’ve tried it) and it leaves them with black moustaches.  I do this every year, but I’d forgotten and only realised they needed some wood to chew on when I noticed that they’d been nibbling the paneling and wooden furniture in the goat house. img_9361

Here’s a summer picture of the mist which sometimes hangs over the lake below our garden. I took this late at night in midsummer — maybe just before midnight, in July — I can tell from the very northerly extreme of the sunset.  The blue shape at the bottom is just an Ikea

 Here is a picture of the outhouse, the building where I work, at the open window.  In England an outhouse is an outdoor toilet, but in Norway et uthus is a small shed or farm building, which is what this was until we arrived.  Now it’s just the hens who live here: in the lowest level, below the ramp.  Our guests sleep on the top floor, under the skylight.  The photograph is from last year, the cherry blossom won’t be out again until mid May.outhouse-cherry-blossom