Monday, November 12, 2018

Review: 100 Nasty Women of History by Hannah Jewell

I haven't been reviewing lately but someone recommended this book to me and even before I started it the title grabbed me. Inspired by Donald Trump calling Hillary Clinton 'such a nasty woman' during the 2016 Presidential campaign Hannah Jewell set out to talk about important women historical figures. Many of them have been all but forgotten as history is more often than not patriarchal not to mention misogynistic. These are women from all over the world and from every time in known history who walked their own paths ignoring custom and even laws to live the lives they chose. They range from empresses and queens through to social rights activists, poets, authors, entertainers and trans women. Many of them lived in times when to go against the status quo was dangerous, even life threatening but they persisted. As products of their times some took on men at their own game and by their rules. This meant they weren't afraid to get their hands dirty and they did. Among them are absolute rulers, generals and pirates. Others, like the anti slavery activists, suffragettes and campaigners for land rights racial equality took the route of resistance. Whoever they may have been and whatever route they took all have in common that they ignored social norms of their times and got down to living life as they chose. Some suffered deeply for those choices and others are now lauded for their activities.
Although I had heard of many there were equally many others I had never heard of and it was a revelation to read about so many amazing women.

But don't think this is a stuffy history book. It definitely is not and doesn't pretend to be. Jewell's writing style is light and entertaining, sprinkled with her own views on subjects like colonialism, racism and misogyny. Her snarky commentary had me laughing out loud at times but be warned it does get sweary so if that bothers you perhaps this is not for you. For the rest of us go for it. It's educational and entertaining and I recommend it highly.

Hannah Jewell is currently the Pop Culture Host on the video team at The Washington Post and was formerly senior staff writer at Buzzfeed UK. Her website is here

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae

The bugles have just sounded and while we waited in silence I thought about those who died and among them was this man.

'In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row'

This is how the famous poem by Canadian medical officer Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae begins. There is some dispute as to the ending of the first line since McCrae wrote two versions, one with the line ending in 'blow' the other in 'grow'. As the first published version - in Punch of December 8, 1915 - used 'blow' I've used that version. You can read the full text here.

John McCrae was a doctor and poet who joined up on the outbreak of war in 1914. He was at the battle of Ypres in 1915 where he wrote his famous poem. He died from pneumonia in France in January 1918.

You can read more about the life of John McCrae here.

Friday, October 12, 2018

I do love

having frogs living in my garden. We have several frog ponds and I keep a couple of bowls filled with water in sheltered parts of the yard in the summer as well. We have several species and I don't even mind the motorbike frogs (Litoria moorei) with their chorus of  "Hello, ladies. Care to join me and make beautiful babies?" that's going on every evening.  It sounds like this and, when there are a number of males trying to entice females to lay their eggs in the ponds as there are at the moment, it can get rather noisy. When I went out last night one handsome boy was draped over the edge of one pond while another was spread out on the surface of the water while they alternately called. They must be successful in attracting mates because there have been tadpoles all year regardless of whether it was breeding season or not and much to the delight of a certain Miss Two who spends considerable time squatting at the side of the pond trying to get them to come to her.

So it's established that I like having frogs around. What isn't so much fun is where they spend their time when they're not trying to attract a mate or having a dip in a pool. I've been doing a lot of garden work lately and in the past few days I've had numerous encounters with frogs all over the yard. Bear in mind that these are quite large frogs - they commonly reach 10 cms in length - so unexpectedly coming across one can be startling to say the least. I've found them snuggled up under potted plants, in the water wells of water well pots, among plants in the garden and sunbathing around the ponds. One of the sunbathers was tiny - about the size of the first joint of my thumb  - and its time in the sun had turned it as usually happens with these frogs from dingy brown to a pretty cream, green and gold. Then there were the two who were sleeping in a large pot under a pile of smaller empty ones - I'd left them out overnight - until I started to lift the pots out to plant up some seedling tomatoes. I don't know who got the bigger fright them or me as the frogs flung themselves around trying to scale the side of a 45 cms high pot. I tipped them out but truth be told all they had to do was calm down and they'd have had no difficulty scaling the side since they can easily climb up to 2 metres - trees, shrubs, even brick walls don't daunt them. These weren't the only ones I found in unexpected places. Yesterday I picked up a cardboard carton I'd been using to carry plants around to various parts of the garden the previous day and woke another into a panicking rush for cover.

I think Pisces is getting used to my shrieks as yet another frog and I meet unintentionally. I must have been louder than usual with this morning's encounter, though, since he came running when I accidentally stepped on a frog that had settled in under a piece of old shower curtain I'd been using to protect some plants the day before. Luckily I hadn't put my full weight down so the frog escaped relatively unscathed but I wasn't as lucky as the frog since I jarred my knee trying not to hurt it.

Monday, October 01, 2018

You Want To Know How I Spent My Day?

Of course you do - or maybe not. On the off chance you do this is how it went:

After I checked my email - still not working, darn it - I went out to the garden to discover the seeds I planted a week ago are well and truly on their way. There are little curls of beans already breaking into leaf and lots of other goodies. It reminded me I need to order some mulch so I can spread it and the sheep manure that arrived a few days ago around before the seedlings are ready to put in the grounds. This addition of organic matter is essential for us to be able to grow anything much here on the coastal plain. When we first moved in there was nothing but grey sand lacking almost all essential nutrients if you wanted to grow anything but local indigenous plants. I've been piling organic matter in now for years and while it's still sandy and so not very good at retaining water - hence the need for mulch, now we have worms and other creatures that signal it is much healthier.

I love this time of year when everything seems to be rushing to grow and I've even found some 'volunteer' tomatoes where I dug in some compost ten days ago. We don't have a freezing winter here so there are always veggies to pick and flowers to brighten your day. When it hits late August things really get going. The wildflowers - and we have glorious displays of these - burst into bloom, ranging from great carpets of colour to delicate orchids hiding away in the bush and they are a great tourist attraction. In a couple of weeks we'll be visiting family a bit north of here and on a visit at the same time last year the blue leschenaultia - one of our most stunning flowers - was everywhere painting the roadside verges a vivid blue. I've been trying to grow it in my garden for ages but it prefers the gravelly soils of the hills to our depleted, limey sand here near the beach.

You're probably wondering what any of this has to do with how I am spending my day.  Well, I've been investigating the Bokashi composting method. I already have compost bins and a worm farm which help a lot in enriching the soil and anything I can find is composted or fed to the worms but there are still things that don't work for those methods. For instance ideally you shouldn't compost citrus or onion or feed them to the worms which do not like them one bit and dairy, meat scraps (not that we have any of these) and bones are not compostable. The appeal of the Bokashi system - which I remember vaguely hearing about a while back - is that it will take and compost all this kitchen waste and more. So when Virgo mentioned she had invested in a Bokashi bin and how well it was working I was tempted.

The thing that put me off was that you have to use a special activator and I wasn't keen on having to regularly pay out to make compost. So that's what I was doing the research about and it turns out you can make your own activator. Yes! But, oh, most of the methods were extremely vague, made huge amounts that I wouldn't be able to store or were very complicated. I delved deeper and now I'm very happy to find a simpler method which will let me make my own activator. There are a number of bins available on the market - or you can make your own. Nope, not doing that. I'm more than happy to leave those sort of activities to people who actually know what they're doing instead of cobbling together something that in all probability won't work as well. So the next step is to get my activator ready - it takes a few weeks with a number of steps none of which are very time consuming and some periods of letting things ferment. Then I'll invest in a bin. I'll let you know what happens.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

More Birds and Bits

This is the view of the garden outside my back door. It's not the greatest photo I'll admit but all these flowers self seed bountifully so they come up every Spring and give me great joy. While you can only see red poppies, calendulas and nasturtiums also nestled in among them are the tiny flowers of heartsease and alyssum.

In other news the New Holland honeyeater nesting in a fern in a hanging basket at the side of the house is not very good at not revealing itself. We’re avoiding using that path as much as possible but the worm farm is there so occasionally I have take them food. Every time I do - and bear in mind I’m walking as far away as I can on the far side of the path and carefully not looking in the direction of the nest - the honeyeater bursts off the nest in a flapping panic, then lands on a nearby twig where it stays staring at me and looking very uneasy.

The honeyeaters are not the only ones nesting among the ferns. There’s also a laughing dove in another hanging basket. She is much more sensible and although clearly nervous she stays firmly put, hunkering down and trying to pretend she’s not there. Move along, human. There’s nothing to see here, she seems to be thinking.

The Australian ravens are also extremely busy. They have one very loud and demanding youngster and keeping its gaping beak occupied is persuading them to be quite bold. We have a large population of lizards and frogs living in our yard and so we don’t encourage ravens or kookaburras for that matter. I’ve been finding bones - some quite large - all over the garden. Not satisfied with turning the bird bath into a messy sludge by dipping stolen bread in it, the ravens raid rubbish bins and dump the bones here when they're finished with them. Since the baby is now as big as its parents I suspect it won’t be long before it is expected to find its own food and things will quieten down. I hope so because it's very raucous and its cries keep sending the neighbourhood dogs into a barking frenzy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Birds in My Garden

One of the joys of living where I do is the number of different species of birds that appear in our garden - and in Spring that number increases as the migratory birds come back. We're suburban but surrounded by bush and wetlands.This includes two golf courses - both of which have remnant bush (one has a resident mob of kangaroos), three nature reserves, one surrounding a large lake, another a wetland awhile the last includes wetlands as well as public space and that's without mentioning the numerous small parks nearby.

All these areas are home to many birds and they overflow into our gardens to feed. In the past week we've been visited by some of the magpie clan as well as Australian ravens both of which live in the park adjoining our back fence. As well we've had visiting pink and grey galahs that have dropped in to feast on the seeding weeds that I have yet to get to. I confess that part of my slowness is to encourage the birds. If I weeded every part of the garden as soon as the weeds appeared we'd miss out on these entertaining visitors.

Then there's the willy wagtail (well-named djitti-djitti in the local Nonngar language as he jitters noisily as he feasts on the flying ants that are starting to emerge). He's a feisty little fellow - and very little fazes him. He'll take on anything that he perceives as a potential threat, puffing out his little chest and chittering furiously until they take the hint or if he deems it necessary he swoops. Doesn't matter how much bigger the birds, dogs, people he'll take them on.

The New Holland honeyeaters are around in increasing numbers, too. We have at least one pair nesting in the ferns around the side of the house. It means the ferns and pineapples will have to go unwatered for a few weeks but they should survive. We did see some odd honeyeater behaviour that we've never seen before the other day. We heard lots of bird tweeting and yelling outside the back door and went out to find about a dozen honeyeaters had another one down on the paving and they were attacking furiously. They were so focussed that we were right up to them before they even noticed us.  No idea what that was about but all of them flew off so I guess not much damage had been done.

As well as these locals there are the others that move in to breed during the end of winter and beginning of spring. I saw my first grey butcher bird a couple of days ago. They have a pretty song that you can hear here.

There are a number of LBBs, too. Those are the little brown birds I haven't been able to get close enough to identify. I suspect they're mostly other honeyeaters or gerygones because I've seen them here before but I'll wait until I can actually identify them before I name them.

Then there are the feral birds. These include the ubiquitous doves that are everywhere - those are thanks to founder of the Perth Zoo who was appointed by the Western Australian Acclimatization committee to set up the zoo and to release European species into the wild. Why they thought that was a good idea I do not know but as a result we have populations of the laughing dove and the spotted dove. They're pretty things that don't cause much of a problem unlike the aggressive rainbow lorikeets which may be lovely to look at but take over native birds' nesting hollows and toss out the eggs and chicks, not to mention the damage they do to fruit crops. They're birds I'd be happy to see disappear.

So that was last week in my garden. I wonder what birds next week will bring.

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Joys of Gardening in Spring

- and yes, I am being sarcastic since my spring time mantra is lovely to look at but horrible to breathe which does make gardening somewhat problematic. Off on a slight tangent: because European seasons don't actually work out all that well here I prefer to use the local Noongar seasons. This makes August and September Djilba, instead of the end of winter and beginning of spring. The Noongar seasons were worked out by the local weather patterns which makes a lot more sense for here than those entirely different ones of the Northern Hemisphere. So my heading should read The Joys of Gardening in Djilba but I figured that would only confuse everyone.

Whatever it's called this time of year has its challenges. It's still cool and often rainy but starting to warm enough that the weeds are springing up everywhere. This explosion of grasses into flower means the air is full of pollen which makes breathing less than enjoyable for those of us who suffer from asthma and/or hay fever. Western Australia is famous for the spectacular displays of wildflowers at this time of the year and they are truly glorious. Supposedly they don't add much to the cocktail of allergens so I suppose I should be grateful for that.

Along with the wild flowers, of course, there's winter grass - untidy and prone to appearing in places I'd rather it didn't but otherwise not a real problem to control - and wild oats turn up everywhere. If they would only confine themselves to out of the way places I wouldn't mind so much. The wild oat in particular is quite graceful and delicate as they move in the wind. Pity they have pointy seeds that stick into just about everything including flesh. Then there are the clovers which are already covered in prickles and such a pest to have to pull out - and I can't forget the thistles which range from the familiar milk thistle to a nasty one that grows up to a metre high and is a nightmare to pull out because it is literally covered in sharp prickles.  On top of all this there's another vicious grass that keeps finding its way under the fence from next door and comes with prickles that hook onto anything - clothing, shoes and skin. Its little barbs dig in making them hard to remove as they break off leaving the tips behind unless you're very lucky. Then there's the double gee (also called the three cornered jack or spiny emex) which has three very tough pointed spikes that dig into pretty much everything as well. It was apparently imported back in the day by the earliest European settlers as a green vegetable, though why anyone would even think of bothering to eat its less than appealing looking leaves I do not know. Of course it escaped and is now rampant across the agricultural areas causing significant problems.

I haven't even started on the insect pests which appear regularly at this time of the year. First to invade were the cabbage white butterflies and they lay their eggs on all and any of the cabbage family - cabbages, kale, broccoli, nasturtiums. They don't care. I might be the kind of gardener who doesn't like to kill things - I don't use chemical insecticides - but picking them off doesn't work so I do spray with Dipel, which is a spray containing a naturally occurring bacterium (Bacillus thuringiensis) which kills caterpillars that ingest it.

The other serious insect pests at this time of the year are the aphids which seem to be under the impression that the onion tribe is being planted purely for their sustenance. Uh, no. These reproduce at an incredible rate and the theory espoused by the gardening experts on all the gardening shows I've seen recently - just hose them off and wait until the natural predators build up - is in my opinion simply rubbish. I've tried that and by the time the natural predators arrive there are precious few of the plants I want to save left. In the past week I've tried the squash 'em method, the sharp spray with a hose method and then I tried spraying with a soap based spray. While each method has helped a little by the next day they are already back in numbers. I don't think I can wait for nature to take its course any longer - I've already lost half my onions, the garlic chives are disappearing almost before my eyes and today I noticed the wee beasties had started on the onion chives.  I'm reluctantly giving in and heading to the garden centre for a pyrethrum based spray because it has a very short residual period so is less of a worry than chemical based sprays. Wish me luck.