Monday, February 23, 2009

The Heron

I came down to make the early morning cup of tea this morning, to be met by a flurry of grey wings and prehistorically long legs trailing behind, as the heron flapped away from our rather small and shallow garden pond. There are no goldfish left in the pond since over the years he has had all of them. He doesn't seem to enjoy them very much since he deposits most of their corpses in the garden, the remains of his extremely expensive fish suppers. We tried netting the pond but it seems kind of counterproductive to have something so pretty covered in ugly netting. Now that the goldfish are gone he is probably after frogs or newts, although the sight of the occasional (and somewhat revolting) piece of frog in the garden would indicate that he isn't so keen on those either. Perhaps it's the time of year and he's just hungry, after anything he can get, which would be understandable.
Herons are an increasingly common sight here in the West of Scotland - they used to be exceedingly rare but now you can even encounter them standing beside the road, tall and solitary and very very still, as though in a state of deep meditation. When I'm working in the upstairs study, I'll sometimes lift my head to see one flapping past the window, heading for the lake up at Kirkmichael House. There's a wonderful old tapestry at Falkland Palace in Fife, which has a depiction of what looks like a pterodactyl - but must be a heron. And it's true, they do look like a creature from another time and place. In Scotland, the bird is invariably referred to as 'The Heron' in the singular, as though there is only one of them. 'I saw the heron today' you say. He's getting pretty ubiquitous, that heron. Gets about a bit. But all the same he is known to be a solitary creature, more fond of his own company than other birds of a feather - the jackdaws which flock together among our chimneypots for instance!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Memory Foam Solution

Even I'm getting bored with this one - but here's a possible solution, which was inspired by a kind person who commented on a previous post - thanks Tana! - and if you can't afford to replace your double bed with twin beds and different mattresses, it certainly helps.
This is what you do.
Buy a common or garden Yoga Mat. In the UK, these are available for about £10.00 in Tesco's but you can get them anywhere. Go for the smooth ones, not the lumpy ones. Not too thin either.
You're looking for a good layer of foam, but not memory foam! Stretch out the mat on top of the dreaded memory foam mattress. Then cover the whole mattress with a blanket of some sort, and then on top of that, put a good thick mattress topper - but not plastic in any form, and certainly NOT memory foam! - you're looking for cotton or fleece or something similar. Again these are available in most bedding shops, some supermarkets and online. The bed may be looking like something from the Princess and the Pea by this time, but this worked for me. Cover with a cotton or linen sheet, and make the bed in the usual way. The trick is to put as much as possible between yourself and the dreaded memory foam. Not only does this help to ease the 'quicksand effect ' - you don't sink into ordinary foam the way you sink into memory foam and yoga mats are designed to be quite firm - but it also helps with the heat, since the blanket and mattress cover don't 'draw' in the same way as the memory foam. It isn't the perfect solution - but it certainly helps and I'm sleeping properly for the first time in a year and a half!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Mountmellick Top Sheet

A while ago, I added a blog post about Mountmellick Embroidery, which has always fascinated me. Now I've come across another much bigger piece in the shape of an old coverlet or top sheet which you can find here. It isn't as intricate as the last piece, which was a nightdress case, but it isn't often I find something as large as this either. It is embroidered in quite a coarse white thread on dense white cotton, with huge passion flowers, the stamens of which are like little shamrocks and leaves. I come across a great many lovely linens and laces with an Irish provenance in this part of the world - or at least with an Irish background. In the nineteenth century, or so the 1838 Statistical Account tells us, the village of Crosshill had many Irish inhabitants:
' A great proportion of the inhabitants of Crosshill, 800 out of 1000, are either Irish or of Irish extraction. In many instances it must be confessed, they exhibit too common characteristics of their countrymen, indolent, improvident, and passionately addicted to spirits and tobacco. At the same time, it is but doing them justice to say, that they have visibly improved in these respects. They are beginning to appreciate the excellence of quiet and orderly habits, and can now spend, in healthful exercise and rational amusement, those hours that were previously consumed in degrading sloth or sensual indulgence. Not a few take a pride in copying the example of their Scottish neighbours, have a wish to possess a suit of better clothes for the Sabbath, and to appear like other people at church.'
These were, it should be pointed out, less politically correct times!
You can read more about it here.
Many of the women were talented seamstresses, and so much of the embroidered linen which is found here shows a distinct Irish influence. The shamrock abounds. And I'm sure at least some of these women and girls would have gone on to learn Ayrshire whitework in their adopted home. It would be a natural progression, and a development of their already considerable talents.


Just to prove that we do occasionally get snow in this part of the world - but not very often, I must admit - here is the view from our upstairs windows this morning. Isn't it beautiful? Sadly, the street out in front is a slushy mess, and although I'm supposed to be going away this weekend, I am now having serious second thoughts because the forecast for sunday in particular is for more heavy snow. All the same, when I stuck my head out of the door this morning, (and withdrew it pretty quickly, because it was so cold out there!) I could hear what sounded to me like a passable imitation of a dawn chorus - or the start of one. So with Valentine's day coming up, at least the birds are having thoughts of spring. And there are snowdrops everywhere - but currently buried under blankets of real snow!