Tuesday, June 30, 2009

specimens of the literature of Sweden


"It's just about seven o'clock, let's go down and meet Fredrik!"

We went to the jetty. The usual people were there. The young artist with a red cap and cautious way of walking. Also the French lady who believed anything that you told her. She offered up her soul to me through big light-blue eyes and I said:

"This morning a revolution broke out in Paris. The whole town is in a state of siege. They're shooting in the streets so you can't hear what anyone says and you have to go indoors if you want to talk to someone."

"My mother! My mother!" said the French lady, because her mother lived in Paris.

"All the women and children have gone to a meadow out of town," I said soothingly.

Just then the boat arrived. It emerged from behind the promontory, and I whispered to my wife:

"Do be nice to Fredrik!"

(Hasse Z (1877-1946), "Fredrik")

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

on the by-pass

I kind of went through my orchid phase soon after getting into wild flowers. Like a lot of people, I suppose, I bought into the glamour and the fabulous rarities and, in the fervour of those early days, I went rather overboard about it; orchids are to wild plants as Dostoyevsky is to literature. Consequently (and rather unfairly) there's no group of plants about which I now feel less excited - well, that's an exaggeration of course, because there's plenty of groups of plants I've never given any thought to at all. Anyway, I couldn't overlook these wonderful banks of orchids which over the last few years have gradually spread along the verges of the local by-pass. These verges are now around twenty years old. Although orchids are long-lived perennials, they are also opportunistic colonizers, but it is a slowish business. It takes quite a few years for the ground to develop its mycorrhizal richness, for the minute orchid seeds to show up, and for the plants to grow from such tiny beginnings (the seeds themselves carry hardly any on-board food, and are dependent on the fungal partner to supply it) up to the point when they are mature enough to put up a flower-spike.

These orchids are basically two species, the common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) and the pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis). Both are common plants, the former the commonest orchid of the whole lot, though it always attracts a lot of earnest scrutiny from inexperienced orchidophiles because the individual plants vary so widely, so it sets you to thinking about possible great rarities and about even rarer hybrids. When it comes to orchids, these fantasies are not so ludicrous as they might be. The seeds, being so light and so numerous, disperse so widely that even rare species do have a habit of turning up in totally unpredictable places. And orchids tend to favour the same spots as other orchids, so when you find one species you have a hunt around and you often find others. As a distribution pattern this resembles mushrooms more than it does other flowering plants. What's also like mushrooms is the way that plants who are standing right next to each other can be completely identical in every way except that one is twenty times bigger than the other. The weird glamour of orchids has a lot to do with their mysterious transactions with the other kingdom. (A bit like when pet-owners, jockeys or ethologists start to look like their animal companions.)

One difference from twenty-five years ago is that now anyone can take good close-ups of the flowers. The technology of macro and supermacro photography has effectively been given away for free to High Street shoppers, so it's hard to remember that there was a time when unless you were a serious photographer you could never get closer to any plant than four feet away. Unfortunately, it remains as difficult as ever to capture a more panoramic impression of the jaw-dropping profusion of spikes in a flush such as this: the photo above was the best I could do, and it looks nearly as uninspiring as it did in the days when I was using 35 mil.

Common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)

Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)

A solitary bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) showed up too, here blurrily seen along with the two other species. [NB Isn't it rather pointed of Stace, on the final page of his great flora, not to even mention the well-known "wasp orchid" variety of this species?]


Thursday, June 18, 2009


It was 19:00 and raining gently. We went out looking for patio slabs. Rain is the best weather for robbery. We remembered a place to try, a dumping ground in a spinney. I had got stuck in here once in the van so this time I parked a bit further away with two wheels still on the main road. Some young bullocks feeding, hides all streaked with rain, shied away from us at first but then they got used to us. The paving slabs were thick and too big and heavy to easily work with, so we dropped them on each other and smashed them up. We loaded up the boot of the car until it sagged.

Then we went and climbed Cley Hill. Our trainers got soaked and then all of our jeans up to knee height, but far in the west you could at last see the long straight edge of the raincloud and as it got nearer the sky lightened and then the long grasses began to twinkle and finally at 2040 a little sun raced on the empty hilltop. There were some rosy groups of orchids but I'd forgotten to charge the camera, and lots of bedraggled but glowing rockrose and trefoil and horseshoe. Flying up the hill had been just invigorating and lung-filling, but getting off it wasn't so straightforward. Cley is steep on all sides (and of course Laura went and chose the steepest descent of the whole lot). Bare chalk is very slippy and the wet turf was just about as bad. Anyhow we bumped down somehow and went to Little Chef for tea and chips and a KitKat, then we dropped by mine to get a bottle of milk, then we went to a garage and got some more chocolate, then we went to Laura's and unloaded the paving slabs, now with fine-combed cirrostratus overhead. Then I went home and wrote a couple of things and then I went to bed and read Bill Bryson about Einstein and Max Planck until it was quite late. That was a midsummer evening, I thought.

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