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26/4/05 devil's garlic

Some fairly terse and low maintenance blogs of late whilst shady is engaged in rather longer, and hopefully more lucrative, tropes. But don't hold your breath. Managed to stretch my legs yesterday, between showers. I joined the Heath via Fitzroy Park, where a film crew was at work...if walking around eating sandwiches is at work (though, of course, I'm no one to talk) I wasn't in chatty mood so didn't inquire what they were filming. Probably not The Bill, at any rate, unless the plot line involved a Russian oligarch.

I edged a course between the top of the Heath and allotments, through land which had been part of the great landscaped estates that lorded it over plebeian London from the Northern Heights in the 18th century; then, crossing Millfield Lane, I hugged the south edge of Ken Wood keeping a weather eye open for golf balls (see 3/2/5).

Here I passed gorse bushes in full mellow flood and drank in great wafts of coconut scent. Spanish bluebells were in evidence at the wood's edge, rather uptight and stiff for my liking, but better than nothing. Dead nettles, white and yellow, and pink campions added more colour. Perhaps the coconut scent had got my digestive juices flowing because at Parliament Hill, not far from George Orwell's gaff, I plucked a white star-shaped ramson flower Allium ursinam and munched it unceremoniously. I can't quite understand why this delicious garlicky, peppery plant attracts so many unpleasant names. Though, when gathered in mass, the smell can be a bit overpowering.

"Not to be despised, these white stars and viridian leaves because of a garlic smell. Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote of a wood "curled all over with bright green garlic" (in his journal in 1871), and in blossom or leaf Ramsons is one of the most beautiful floorings. Gerard wrote that in the Low Country fish sauce was made from the leaves, which "maye very well be eaten in April and Maie with butter, of such as are of a strong constitution, and labouring men.""
Geoffrey Grigson, 1955, quoted in the Oxford Companion to Food, Davidson

21/4/05 boring at kentish town

"17 Soho Square, 16th November 1855

" MY DEAR SIR, -Among the fragments of organic remains from
the Artesian well at Kentish Town, there are very few which admit
of even a conjectural determination, and only one which can be
named with certainty; this is the Ammonites inflatus, Sow., which
also passes under the name of A. rostratus; the specimen is suffi-
ciently large and perfect to show all the distinctive characters of the
species, viz. a strong keel, back broad, sides flattened, with strong
slightly curved ribs, either single or bifurcating, and thickest near
the back, where they are crossed by several transverse furrows, which
in the cast are but faintly seen; the lobes of the septa are fully shown
in the specimen, and exactly agree with those of A. inflatus; so that
no doubt can exist as to its identity. In mineral condition also the
specimen exactly agrees with that of the same species from the phos-
phatic nodules in the brick-fields near Cambridge, which are supposed
to belong to the top of the Gault.

"The species is also common in the Upper Greensand in many
localities; M. d'Orbigny quotes it as found throughout France in
the Craie chloritée and in the upper part of the Gault, so that every-
thing conspires to lead us to place the bed in which this specimen
was found, marked No. 80, 1196 feet (No. 53 of following section),
as belonging; to the upper part of the Gault.

"In the tray marked No. 97 (str. 60) is a small fragment of an
Ammonite which I think to be A. cristatus, De Luc, a species only
known in the Gault; but the fragment is so small, and so much worn,
that I name it with the greatest doubt; it is in a reddish clay.

"In tray No, 97, in company with the last-named Ammonite, and
also in the tray labelled '353,84 mètr.' (str. 40), are several fragments
of small Belemnites, which correspond in size with B. minimus of the
Gault; but I can state almost with certainty that they do not belong
to that species ; their section is more square than in B. minimus, and
the sides have not the double line which marks that species. One
specimen differs from all the rest; it is the point, and appears to
have a furrow down each side as in B. bicanaliculatus, Blainville,
which M. d'Orbigny places in the Neocomian beds, it is, however,
possible that these apparent furrows may have been produced by the
friction of the borer, as the fragment is evidently rubbed. On the
whole, no safe conclusion can be drawn from the fragments of Belem
. In the tray '353,84 mètres,' there are also some fragments
of Ammonites, of which nothing can even be guessed.

" I can form no opinion whatever about the specimens in the other
trays; some of them are organic, others appear to be only nodules.

"Yours sincerely,

" Joseph Prestwich, jun., Esq." "DANIEL SHARPE"

1856, Prestwich, J, F.R.S., Sec. G.S., On the boring through the chalk
at Kentish Town, London
[From the Quarterly Journal of the Geological
Society of London
for February 1856]

31/3/05 Fossil Fuel


Field horsetail, near Barnet, 26 March 2005

Re: Field horsetail (18/3/05). Equisetum (class Sphenopsida, family Equisetaceae) is the last surviving member of its family and class. It is a cryptogam, which means that it reproduces by spores rather than seeds. In the Carboniferous period its ancestors grew to tree-like heights and sometimes turn up today as coal-measure fossils.


"Equisetum" A Dictionary of Plant Sciences. Ed. Michael Allaby. Oxford University Press, 1998. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Camden Libraries. 31 March 2005 <>


18/3/05 Iced

"Better to be bitten by a snake than to feel the sun in March."
An old Wiltshire saying.

"Better still: bite the snake."
An old Shepherd saying.

20°c in central London on Paddy's Day, so I headed for the Beach.

Managed to get lost on the golf links above Chingford, which wasn't a good start. But did notice what looked like ridge and furrow to west side of Chingford Plain. I ruled out glider traps and golf furniture at any rate. I think.

The Lee Valley is rich in - believe it or not - mountain plants: dwarf birch, purple saxifrage (a rockery staple), yellow mountain saxifrage, mountain avens and your more run-of-the-mill sedges and grasses associated with cold tundra conditions. Well, that is, it was rich in them, 10,000 years ago, as the ice was retreating back up the M1.

But for those - like me - who don't like change, it was nice to see some fresh cones of Field horsetail, Equisetum arvense (VN "Mare's tail" and, across the pond, "Snake grass"): a prehistoric plant which wouldn't be out of place on the set of Jurassic Park.

The brown shoots, piercing the earth at the base of last year's dead stalks, look like incense cones, or miniature gherkins. (Think Norman Foster, rather than pickled heaven). Later, the stems will look like they have been built in sections, hence its other alt. name "Lego plant" (Richard Maybey, Flora Britannica). The stem will have pine-needle-like branches. The whole resembling - at a pinch - a horse's tail.

Horsetail is poisonous to animals, particularly (and ironically) horses. Poisoning is usually via feedstock (horses wouldn't be daft enough to eat the plant of their own volition) and symptoms include weight loss, weakness, gait abnormalities, abnormal heart and/or rhythm, inability to rise, and death.

Health-e-Teas sell Field horsetail infusion on the internet at £9.99 for 1000 g. There are no customer reviews of the product, so you may draw your own conclusions.

Peacock butterflies were out in force on Leopard's (Lippits) Hill and - as usual - I watched the police helicopter take off from the Met. Police Camp opposite, appropriatly enough, "The Owl" PH at the summit. Climbing Barn Hill later on in the walk, I watched the helicopter return, closely followed by a friend; as if even these mechanical birds were involved in the mysterious processes of the spring. Larks were singing above an adjacent field as I rolled away the contours to Sewardstone and the valley bottom, 15 m above sea level, and a few metres above the post-glacial gravels of the tundra belt.

Approaching Enfield Lock I'm alarmed by the sight of a fire engine and have already dragged the lifeless body from the water and read the labels attached to the brown flowers at the canalside shrine when I realise that there is no emergency. The radio is talking to itself. The firefighters are leaning on a fence and swapping fishing stories just as Izaak Walton did here a few centuries ago, passing away "a little time without offence to God or man."

Passing the 303 club next to the lock, I imagine the queue on a Saturday night. A queue of all the people ever killed by Enfield's most famous export. A queue stretching back along the Lee, bending left beside the Thames, on past Barking and Tilbury; turning left again at Shoeburyness, and snaking in and out of the creeks and saltmarshes of the Essex Coast. The queue is well-behaved and patient, its members shuffle abstractedly, swap anecdotes, or shyly compare exit wounds.

What effect the new licensing laws will have on the revenants is hard to say. But I don't suppose that it will ever be difficult to fill a club with zombies in these parts, where the locals drink snake-grass tea and the spring unwinds down the valley with mechanical hubris.


2005, Ice Age Britain, Howard Stableford, BBC Radio 4

1996, Flora Britannica, Richard Mabey, Chatto & Windus

2005, Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, (Horsetail poisoning)

2005, e-teas (Horsetail tea)

1982, The Compleat Angler, (First published in 1653) Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton, Oxford World Classics (John Buxton ed.)




25/2/5 Kilburn

[OED: Auld Cockneye "Dead River"]

Yesterday to Kilburn
3 minutes down the track
An hour's slog back
Into a blathering easterly

Ears iced under bobble-
Less past 2 trackworkers
Armored against knots
And knives

Me and Cerberus
Kennelled down an
Abandoned (because flat) luge run
More shit than shift

A pile of pimped water bottles -
Portable O2 centres for
Finchley freedivers
On a bad bend

Fst fwd
Frognal - Netherhall -Shepherd's Walk

On Parlt. Hill I ogle
A pair of long-tailed tits

Fna fna

With combed-down mohicans
Like punks at the Jobcentre
"A white coronal stripe"
And magpie tales

And a snagged kite
Flopping like a dull prayer

See - see - see
See - see - see

A canoeist of the cortex
On a tarmac river raving
Outrider of the shady deep
Not drowning but paving


19/2/5 Stone Shoot the Crows


"On account of the mischief caused by the Carrion Crows from Ken Wood, they had asked Grand Duke Michael of Russia that the birds should be shot when possible."

From the Hampstead Heath Protection Society 17th AGM, reported in the Times, 04/03/1914, p8 col c: "Carrion Crows on Hampstead Heath".

I took this photo on 21/02/2003, so presumably the Grand Duke was a better golfer than he was a marksman.

3/2/5 The Quickening

Time, revolving in its perpetual circuit, now, in the warmth of spring, calls back new zephyrs. Earth restored displays her brief youth and the ground now free of frost takes on a soft greenness. Am I deceived? Or do my powers of verse return? Does spring bear the gift of inspiration? It is here by the favour of spring and flourishes once again, and (who would believe it?) Now begs some employment for itself.

John Milton 1608-1674, Elegia Quinta, (trans Gordon Campbell) in The Complete Poems, Everyman's Library, p 515.

I detect more than a hint of irony in that headline, now. But perhaps I can write myself out of my torpor.

Tuesday (1 Feb) was Imbolc: "one of the cornerstones of the Celtic calendar, celebrated by the lighting of fires". (Radio Times, 29 Jan-4 Feb). It's a kind of halfway, or step-stone festival, midway between two equinoxes. A druidic road movie. A paean to the return of the light and the first signs of the coming spring.

In myself (in case you were wondering) I feel more quicklime than sappy and disinclined to raise myself from Hades with the application of lippy. Or teeth. But Imbolc - appropriately enough - is also the second anniversary of my "artistic rebirth". So I pulled my socks up, folded them neatly down over the tops of my Bata wellies (suppliers to the Habsburg armies, south-east Essex and other lost causes) and headed Heathwards.

But the Heath seemed to me like a dark theatre. A Winter Palace stripped with consummate thoroughness by a revolutionary mob. The stage undressed and dismal. A few actors loafing around, out of sorts. A kestrel stared me down from a bare branch. Too fcuked to fly. Up at the south meadow below Kenwood I watched a pair of impossibly exotic parakeets picking at beak-challenging oak buds. This area was once laid out as a golf course by the also improbably exotic (for NW3) Grand Duke Michael Romanov (1861-1929), second cousin of Nicholas II. Miche-Miche, as he was known to his family, took up residence in Kenwood House with his wife, Sophie (grand daughter of Pushkin), in 1910. But their 21-year lease was cut short by events in Russia. Both are buried in the comparatively modest surroundings of Hampstead Cemetery, Fortune Green Road. An address not without a certain irony.

In the 18th-century Robert Adam, the architect who remodelled Kenwood House, claimed to be able to see ships going up and down at the Thames from here.

I stop for a while and imagine, something over a century later, a tall man with cropped hair and a neatly trimmed beard, t-ing off into a wind blowing bad news from beyond the marshes. Red sails on a racing tide.

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