Sunday, November 12, 2006

The mother of all fairy rings

It's been a while! A difficult time at work, and what the insurance people understatedly call an RTA, have meant that I haven't really felt inspired to commit my thoughts to blog. However, I think that failing to record this sighting would be a crime against mycology. It was on 26 October above Happy Valley near Aberdovey. It consisted of Lepiota Procera (Parasol mushrooms) and the evidence of abundant nettles and the remains of giant puffballs suggested that this was an old manure heap. Apart from this, there was a wide range of wax caps in the surrounding meadows. The walk itself was lovely. It was a sharp uphill climb, mainly on tracks, followed by a descent into the valley. Another climb took us up to the bearded lake, then a return walk along an almost traffic-free gated road proved to be the best part of the walk. The fairy ring was by this roadside, and following this, the autumn afternoon sun on our backs meant that we were able to stroll gently, and even sit for a while, enjoying the aerial displays of three buzzards level with us above the beautiful valley.

The rest of this short break to southern Snowdonia consisted of a thorough soaking by Lake Bala, courtesy of a sudden dramatic downpour during what was supposed to be a gentle stroll to break the journey, and for which we were toatally unprepared, a splendid walk near a small hamlet rejoicing in the name of Llanifhangel-y-pennant, the highlights of which were a waterfall near the start of the walk, and a nice cup of tea, a sit down and a slice of buttered bara brith in the community centre in Abergynolwyn, conveniently located at the halfway point of the walk, and a repeat of the precipice walk near Dolgellau, which has to provide some of the most stunning views for amazingly little effort. Thanks to our hosts Alex and Lorraine, and their stunningly located guesthouse, it was a great few days. The fact that somone decided to pull out in front of us on the way home and cause what became several weeks of stress, that I hope is now mainly over, almost made me forget what a lovely time we had. I'm glad I finally got round to recording it.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

National treasures

There seems to be a lot of references to National Treasures recently. I don't have a problem with this concept, in fact, within reason I think it's quite jolly. Recent nominees for this epithet include David Attenborough, Bill Oddie, Michael Palin and Stephen Fry. This set me wondering what the criteria are for being a National Treasure. Based on the above selection, it seems to me they would include: being or having been a comic writer / performer /actor , and / or a wildlife presenter, and have been around for quite a long time.

Small but perfectly formed

Last weekend I made a return visit to the location I searched on 20 August, which I am going to call Manny. Whilst I didn't find a lot, what I did find was in very good condition: 2 small ceps, half a dozen bay boletes, large field mushrooms and meadow wax caps. The ceps went into a bake with some potatoes, an assortment were added to a ragout of home grown borlotti beans, tomatoes and onions, and the remainder were dried now that my dehydrator is now fully operational again. Speaking of which, the fruits I dried (oranges, mangoes, strawberries and plums) and dipped in chocolate (Grren and Black dark cooking chocolate) for Elaine's birthday, were very well received both by Elaine, and by the others in the office.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The best offer I had all week

One of my school visits last week provided a memorable experience worth reporting. As I entered, I was met my a boy whose responsibility it was to greet visitors to the school.
"Welcome to xxxx school," he said "how may I help?"
"I'm here to see Mrs xxx," I replied.
"Shall I show you to her office?" he asked.
"That's fine. I know it's just along the corridor here"
"Shall I fetch you a chair from the dining hall?" he offered.
"That's very kind of you, but I'm sure Mrs xxx will be along any second. She is expecting me."
Did this young man's solicitude know no bounds?
"Would you like some soup?" he enquired.

Mrs xxx was greatly amused by the story, and had no knowledge of or explanation for this offer, and no, I hadn't stumbled into some kind of hospitality wars between local schools, despite having been regaled with the highest quality chocolate biscuits at another school the previous day. However, perhaps there was a possibility of hors d'oeuvres on my next visit. At this point, one of Mrs xxx's colleagues entered the room.
"I've just had a lovely mug of soup", she said.

Normal service not yet resumed...

A bit of a gap in the hunting owing to a heavy cold / flu laying me low last weekend. The weather has been very mild - quite close in fact. I decided to have a short outing after work today, so went "Robin". There was not much to find. certainly nothing for tea. I wonder if the temperature needs to drop before there is any chance of a new flush.At least I now have my dehydrator back in action.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Loadsa mushrooms

A brilliant morning's foray at "Ed woods" this weekend. The woods were full of bay boletes and saffron milk caps, and a few slippery jacks. There were some fine field mushrooms, but nothing to speak of in the way of wax caps. A bonus on the way back was a large harvest of sloes. Rounding off the morning with a pint of tea and a bacon butty made it a perfect Saturday morning.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Don't call us....

This week’s mushrooming activity was moderately successful: enough for tea and a few for the dehydrator. So that I can remember where I found stuff without giving away my location secrets, I’ll give each place a code name. Yesterday was “William”. There was nothing at all in the meadows, but the woodland yielded some Badius and Edulis, and a few fine Saffron milk caps. Unfortunately, the dehydrator decided to throw a wobbler, so if I can’t get it fixed soon, I’ll have to go back to using the airing cupboard.
At work, the week started badly when we discovered that following a reorganisation (god knows why) the phone number that our “clients” use to contact us had been discontinued. At least it had been reinstated by the end of the week, but only after we had made a fuss about it. This set me to wondering why people feel the need to reorganise things; does the phrase “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mean nothing to these people? I’m not against progress, far from it, but sometimes I can’t see any rhyme or reason behind changes. So perhaps I just need it explaining to me. Sainsbury’s please note.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Holland trumps Italy in tasteless Snowstorm contest

Now there's a sentence you thought you'd never read! There are lots more where that came from. For those beyond the magical world of QISS (don't even try to work out what it stands for!) there is an ongoing competition in the office for who can bring back the naffest snowstorm souvenir from their hols. The only rule is that they must cost no more than £2 / 3 Euros. Even if I say so myself, my Dutch boy and girl on a see-saw with a windmill in the background edged it over m'colleague's valiant two-sided submission of Vesuvius in its dormant and erupting states. The 4 days in the land of liquorice and bicycles was delightful. I devised a game for anyone visiting the country with a friend or partner. It involves spotting the most outrageous or unusual item being carried on a bike. Just to start you off, mine was a three piece suite, with a pair of crutches as a runner-up. Please do comment if you can offer any interesting sightings.
One of the high / lowlights of my stay was a visit to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; low, because it had been relocated (albeit temporarily) from its former site close to the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum to a building site round the back of the station,and all the fine impressionist and other modern masterpieces I remember from previous visits were no longer on display; high because one of the exhibitions there was unexpectedly splendid. I could not do it justice by trying to describe it. I'd urge anyone reading this to go and see it, or if this is not possible, at least look at the trailer and downloads on the website . The exhibition is called "The Falling Eye" by Saskia Olde Wolbers, and for anyyone who likes vivid images and intriguing and captivating tales, it is a sheer delight. The image above is a still from one of the videos.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Better luck on the mushroom front!

What a difference a few days can make. A local foray produced a basket full of lovely bay boletes, a large orange birch bolete and lots of oyster mushrooms. Some of the bays went towards a pasta sauce, and the rest went into the dehydrator along with the birch bolete. I dried some strawberries and mango earlier in the week, and experimented with some blueberries and blackberries - I'm not too confident about the chances of success for these. Some blackberries and more apples went towards some fruit crumbles for the freezer, and today was spent slaving over a hot preserving pan using some of our glut of plums to make a plum sauce, which is delicious. HP eat your heart out. I just hope it keeps.

Last week, I went for a walk with my mother. She told me about a man who kept going into the nature reserve office to ask about the bench he had ordered in memory of his wife. On our walk we saw what was clearly a newly installed bench. The inscription told us that the lady in question was now at peace with beloved dog; Sam. I don't mind if no one bothers to erect a bench to my memory, but if they do, please do not let me go to my final rest badly punctuated!

I shall be off for a bit of culture in Amsterdam next week, as well as a sentimental journey to Groningen where I spent a very happy year in the 70's. After that, it's back to work, so anyone reading this can expect my blog to take a decidedly odd turn. You will read "sentences you thought you would never hear", and other musings from a motley assortment of people who ought to know better.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Assessment rant

Today in the Observer was a headline about raising standards in schools in English and Maths by making the exams harder! How does this work? Do highjumpers get better if you raise the bar? Why can't the government see that there is a huge difference between measuring attainment and raising it? In fact, many of the ways in which we measure attainment are actually counter-productive because the results are high stakes matters and when this happens, people "cheat" to try to achieve. "Cheat" is a harsh word, but the recent furor about coursework proves the point. Teaching to tests is also a result of this high stakes culture. Many secondary teachers complain that the SATS results they get from primary schools do not represent the real ability of the pupils, but then they do the exactly the same for KS3 SATS and GCSE. This is entirely understandable in this high stakes culture. There is pressure on the school managers to improve results, which they pass on to the teachers. There is pressure on the pupils to be seen as high attainers, so the teachers do everything they can to ensure the pupils get good results (they call this "spoonfeeding"), but then they complain that pupils are not capable of independent learning. But teaching methods do not encourage pupils to become independent learners. Why? Because teachers spoonfeed pupils so they will get good test results. Attainment is being inaccurately measured, NOT raised. The government talk about their support for personalised learning and assessment for learning but singularly fail to back it up with actions. I was delighted to read that Dylan William has returned to us from the US. Can he persuade the powers that be that things need to change direction? Rant terminates.

Mushrooms - not so galore

My first Blog! One thing I want to record here is my mushrooming activities - hence the name. Today, I made an optimistic trip out to Derbyshire. The weather has been coolish and wet for the last few weeks and I have been getting reports of sightings, so I thought it was worth a try. Saw quite a few things but nothing much in the way of edible fungi.

On the harvesting for the winter front, I used the dehydrator to dry some windfall cooking apples. That seems to have been successful.