Itchy and scratchy

Okay now the show is over I can talk about itchy and scratchy. The cartoon itself is aimed at a younger audience which I think is deplorable because of its content, it is so violent and goes against all that I believe. As an adult I can laugh at the stupidity and impossible scenarios and not take anything seriously, which is what I do. It is much the same as any other slapstick comedy, one character gets hurt by the other and we laugh at it. Should we be offended or simply treat it as ridiculous? That dear reader is down to your own conscience. Now joking apart I cannot help be reminded of the  cartoon characters now whenever I feel itchy and at this time of year that is quite often for me. Having caught too much of the sun my skin in places has become rather itchy and I have been trying to resist scratching it but it isn’t easy. Come on now you probably do the same, you end up scratching it too. However I don’t leave myself at the mercy of my fingernails, I apply a suitable skin cream. There is another kind of itch which rears its ugly head at this time of year too, that caused by the constant battle with midges and other small flying insects which want to feed on my skin. I find an application of a lavender infused cream helps in preventing being eaten alive. On Wednesday morning, very early in the morning (it was actually 5.30) I had gone into the front garden to give it what has become a daily routine these past couple of weeks, a good watering with the hose. Well all went well for a few minutes then it was ‘Hey guys, here is another victim’ as the little mites began settling on my exposed regions. I had to keep wetting my arms to keep them off. Had I watered the garden later when it was in full sunshine I suppose there wouldn’t have been as many midges about. I don’t think they like the heat. I can relate to that. I persevered for the hour I was out there, I wasn’t going to allow a few insects to stop me. After returning indoors for breakfast I returned to the garden and sat on the bench there playing guitar for an hour. Strangely I wasn’t pestered this time. I guess the music sent them to sleep!

Shirley Anne


Off limits!

I had to get up as early as possible on Tuesday despite being tired the night before from that day’s work but I had slept well and woke up refreshed. Recently the weather has improved and the days have been quite warm and sunny, too warm for any strenuous work as far as I am concerned but I had work to do. If I could get started early I could still get much done before the afternoon when the sun would be beating down upon me in that part of the garden. I am referring to my little project in or on the Plot. Basically the work I am doing at the moment is mixing mortar and laying bricks. Now I am in no way a qualified bricklayer but I think I do a fair job. The hardest thing isn’t mixing the mortar because the mixer does that, it is getting everything lined-up and the walls straight and vertical. If I were a professional bricklayer I would use a line to get the walls straight and I have done that on previous jobs I have done but for this particular job I have chosen to use a straight piece of timber instead. For shorter walls I find this method easier. It really doesn’t matter as long as the walls end up as planned. It would be around one-thirty before I felt I’d had enough for the day and it was beginning to get uncomfortably warm in my overalls even though I was working in the shade and even though I was completely naked underneath them as I had chosen to leave off wearing my day clothes. A little later and it would have been under the sun. This is what I have done so far (Tuesday)..Plot 7  As you can see the area was under the sun a short time later. I’d had a quick-lunch around twelve-thirty and continued to work for an hour before packing everything away. After getting changed I spent a couple of hours on the patio but ended up lying in the shade of the umbrella for it was too hot in the sunshine. However, try as I might to relax I was constantly pestered by flying insects and decided to go indoors for a moment. I returned and resumed my position on the patio but this time no flies came near. I was off-limits! Why? I had applied some moisturizing cream to my exposed skin and it was scented with lavender. I love the fragrance of lavender but flies hate it! It is said that if you use lavender impregnated sprays and perfumes around the house it helps keep the flies at bay. I hoped to resume my bricklaying the following day and again whilst it was cooler in the morning.

Shirley Anne

Nothing going on?

I went to bed rather tired on Saturday and though I cannot remember the exact time I nodded off it was probably about eleven o’clock but then I awoke just before two to answer Nature‘s call. I awoke again just before four for the same reason. I finally arose around eight. I don’t usually have sleep patterns like that, I usually sleep for four to five hours and that’s it, I get up. It was Sunday and I had nothing planned for the day. I’d had a busy week so it was fitting that Sunday was an absolute do nothing day for I knew that during the coming week I would be busy. There were already two electrical jobs scheduled and there was more work to do in the garden. Who said gardening was easy? It isn’t but it is pleasurable as I have discovered over the past couple of years. Sunday was a sunny day but there were plenty of clouds floating by too which blocked the sunlight from time to time. There was also an intermittent breeze which bordered on the annoying, especially when the sun was blotted out. I went out into the garden, that is the rear garden, I usually mean the rear garden when I say that as the front garden is not private and is also more exposed. I do spend some time in the front garden but it is seldom to relax there even though there is a bench to sit on. I sit on it only occasionally. I sat for a few minutes on the other bench in the rear garden before taking a stroll. Our little robin was flitting about on the lawn catching insects but no other birds paid me a visit though I could hear many of them off it the trees somewhere. Even an owl was still hooting and it was late morning! I eventually found myself sitting on the patio steps which are next to the flowerbed I have been working in lately. There is an off-cut of artificial grass on one of the steps acting I suppose as a mat. I lifted it to clear away what was beneath it before sitting down. Well what was beneath it? Wood lice, lots of them, a family to be precise for that is how they live, in small family communities from the largest to the tiniest. They all darted away as they do when disturbed and found somewhere else to hide. I knew they would be back the following day though. I sat down and watched Nature at work though at first one would think that nothing was going on there was plenty of activity. The first thing I noticed was the insect buzzing around my ear which soon disappeared when waved at. Then the hornets and hoverflies flitting about looking for a meal and the bees busy working away gathering pollen on the newly planted plants I had put there were more noticeable from my low seated position. I was admiring the plants themselves, trees, bushes, flowers and flowering shrubs all standing in the warm sunshine but I was also admiring my handiwork and what I had done recently as well as over the years too. My eyes turned to the ground and I could see ants at work and my eyes followed them as they climbed the nearest newly planted tree.
English: Lasius Niger (Black garden ant) on a ...
Lasius Niger (Black garden ant) on a plant. Getting ants to sit still long enough to make a good picture is a challenge if you don’t use bait. Here, I’ve placed a droplet of honey on the stem. That kept this worker female busy for several minutes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What were they after? Then I saw the small flowers among the trees foliage and the ants were there feeding and probably collecting for their colony. The problem with ants is that they are destructive and their populations grow to enormous proportions and they become a pest. I cannot remember the last time I was able to sit on the grass without being overrun by ants. So there are insects which are tolerable and insects which are the complete opposite! Whichever way I look at it there is always some going on, especially in the garden.

Shirley Anne


English: Southport Sand Dunes. Taken from Dune...
Southport Sand Dunes. Taken from Dunes, looking towards Marshside (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got up quite early on Saturday, had a shower, got dressed and had eaten breakfast by 7.15. Before I went downstairs though after getting dressed I decided my bedroom windows needed cleaning. The early morning sunshine really shows up the dirt on the windows that normally would only seem a little dusky. As we can open the windows inward cleaning them isn’t difficult. The day was promising to be very warm and sunny and although I had ideas of working in the garden I thought the better of it and decided not to. I would get very little done in the heat of the day and what I had in mind to do can be done any time. So I sat outside on the patio with a cup of coffee and a magazine to read. Every quarter I receive a copy, in fact two copies of ‘Prophetic Vision’. It is produced by the ministry of David Hathaway a well-known evangelist in Christian circles who spreads the word of God throughout Europe, Russia, Israel and other places. In his latest publication he talks about the responsibility of every Christian to spread the Gospel message of hope and eternal salvation through the only means possible, through Jesus Christ. It is a subject dear to my heart and has been ever since I became ‘born again’. Although we have this responsibility we have to rely on The Holy Spirit to work through us, we cannot do it in our own strength but we can expect much rejection of the message too.

Gospel Books. Eвангелие в окладе, 1772 год, Мо...
Gospel Books. Eвангелие в окладе, 1772 год, Москва. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It isn’t about saving people or pointing out their sins either, that is God’s responsibility. Our responsibility is to deliver the message, it is a question of giving people the choice, the opportunity to hear and respond. It says in Scripture, how can people hear the message unless someone tells them (paraphrased)? It is an obligation and a duty I take seriously so I pray for opportunities to be involved. I wasn’t going to talk about this subject in this post today but as reading the message in the magazine was a part of my day I included it. It was around ten o’clock when I decided to go for a walk, stopping off in the village to make a bank deposit first of all and then continuing as my feet directed me. On arriving in the village I found the main road over the level crossing had been temporarily closed there and also a couple of hundred metres beyond to allow a local open street market to set up for the day. This is the first time I have seen this happen specifically in our village but we often have such things in the town centre. I wasn’t there to browse the stalls and in any case most were still under construction at that hour. After leaving the bank I took the back streets into town stopping along the way to look at the parking facilities near to a job I was to do very early on Monday morning. I learned later when I phoned the person I would be working for that she had seen me there and wondered who it was. She couldn’t call out to me for she was engaged on the phone. I slowly continued on my way into the busiest part of town but I wanted to bypass the area and head down to the beach. There were many people in town, too many for me, I like things to be a little quieter and I get that on the part of the beach I generally visit, which is nearer to home. I ended up sitting on top of the sand dunes eating wild blackberries and looking out to sea. The tide was out as is often the case in Southport and when it is out the sea can be well over a mile away. Still it is peaceful down there. I sat there for more than an hour before returning home around one o’clock. E was still at home but soon was to eat lunch and then go out for the rest of the day. She had been baking some sausage rolls to take to a party of sorts at her mom’s house for it was her mom’s birthday on Saturday. It would have been my mom’s birthday today, the eleventh as you read this, sadly she died back in 1997. I didn’t see E again until the evening. I prepared my own lunch later in the afternoon as I hadn’t been hungry earlier. I then spent more time out in the garden disrupting the activity of the thousands of ants emerging from their nests to fly off and invade new places, probably in my own garden too! I hate the little blighters. Come next season I shall be ready with the poison and I’ll need lots of it. When I returned indoors later, I did spend time relaxing on the patio by the way, I noticed a lone wood-pigeon eating its evening meal on the lawn. Ants were on the menu it seemed.

Shirley Anne

‘Tis the season

English: Ant nest disturbed by a bird. On the ...
Ant nest disturbed by a bird. On the picture the Queen Ants can be seen. They are probably Black garden ants

No, not the other one in December, though that isn’t all that far off is it? No, it is the season for ants to come out of their nests and fly off somewhere else to make new colonies. The conditions have to be just right for the winged monsters to emerge. It has to be dry of course and warm and the humidity being normal helps too. Over the last few days we have had a lot of rain but on Wednesday everything changed and although it wasn’t a hot day at only 17 deg C or thereabouts it was dry at last. We have paving slabs surrounding the lawn in the rear garden and unfortunately they provide perfect conditions for ants to make nests beneath them. The fist signs of an imminent evacuation are the little mounds of soil or sand that appear on the lawn or on top of the paving slabs if they have found a way through the cement mortar, and they somehow do that sometimes. The excavated material obviously comes from beneath the paving or other things undermining them in the process. The end result after years of ant activity is uneven or loosened paving. The only way to prevent damage is to make conditions inhospitable for the ants and they will go elsewhere or kill them using propriety foods or powders to poison them. There are not many solutions that can be used in and around plants and lawns that won’t have an effect on those too unless specific chemicals and poisons are used but they unfortunately can be washed away in the rain. Outside our perimeter wall at the front of the house ants have always been active and the small paving brick tiles have become uneven under foot. We live in a sandy area and therefore we see sand being excavated and dumped in little mounds against brick walls and pavement fixtures, worse of all stone gateposts which can end up standing any way but vertical! Ants are the culprits of course, no other insect has the stamina or inclination, except perhaps termites. Some wasp species and a few other insects do burrow beneath the ground but are seldom as destructive. I have found a way of dealing with the ants at the front of the house and that is by pouring diesel oil down their access holes. They do not like diesel and beat a hasty retreat in its presence. It is a very effective but perhaps pungent method of ridding an area of ants, however it is only a temporary measure. I lived in a house some years ago that had solid flooring, bitumen laid on concrete and we were pestered by ants coming indoors through cracks by the walls. One coat of diesel on the floor cured the problem until I was able to seal up the access points later. I have used some diesel in the rear garden but only on concrete surfaces. The real answer in keeping the pests down I suppose is to supply them with plenty of ant-killing foods that they will take back to their nests and see them off. At least I now know where to prepare a treat for them next year and fill in unwanted access holes in paving and stonework with cement mortar but where are the winged ones going?

Shirley Anne.

Of blue tits and ladybirds

Blue tit Français : Mésange bleue Deutsch: Bla...
Blue tit

On Saturday morning I was feeling rather restless and found myself wandering about the downstairs rooms and chatting with E. She would be going to her monthly meeting after lunch and I had plans to do a little more work in the wet room once I was alone. E was in the rear lounge and I joined her there and sat on the settee near to the windows. I happened to glance out of the window to my left to see  five or six blue tits darting about on the pipework on the side of our neighbours house. They seemed to be just playing but I realized it must have been more than that. The day was warm and humid, exceptionally so for this time of year. In fact we had been told the temperature was five degrees celsius above the norm. This meant there would be plenty of flying insects around and I fancy that is what was making the tits so active. I noticed a few ladybirds (ladybugs) dotted about on a few of the downstairs windows and a few of them flying about too. Whilst I was at one of the windows I noticed the sill was wet and pointed this out to E who immediately told me she knew about it. It appears that when the rain hit this window it found its way inside instead of running harmlessly out again through the drain hole provided because the fitters had inadvertently drilled fixing holes in the wrong place. Noticing their error they then drilled the fixing holes elsewhere but didn’t repair the frame where they had initially drilled. It just meant filling the wrong holes with filler which I did straight away. After lunch E went out as planned and I set about securing the floor drain for the wet room in the cellar room below. Once that was done I was able to weld the plastic grid assembly to it on the wet room floor. I then secured the metal fascia to it. I applied floor tile adhesive around the drain and then started to lay some floor tiles. I had planned it that only one corner of one tile would need to be cut around the drain. I took one of the tiles down to the cellar to cut it. It took some time to cut using the ‘Abra file’, a thick wire-shaped file in a frame very much like a hacksaw frame. That would be the only floor tile that needed to be cut that way. The remaining tiles that require cutting will involve straight cuts only, where the tiles are too long for instance. I completed laying about a third of the floor tiles before finishing for the day. I had only spent two hours working which was enough considering I wasn’t yet fully recovered from the ‘flu. There will be plenty of time in the next week to finish the floor completely and then it is fitting the furniture time! I was happy I got the chance to do something, just to relieve the boredom.

Shirley Anne

Would you eat them?

I ate these - ants in the Amazon 2003
I ate these – ants in the Amazon 2003

I have never been really fussy about what I eat although there are and have been certain things I would never eat and some things that are just not to my taste. I like most things that are edible, that is as long as I consider it to be bona-fide food! What is to someone else’s liking may not be to mine. What tastes nice to them may taste horrible to me. Even things that are considered to be ‘normal’ food to some may seem ridiculous to me. E is very fussy about her food, what she will and will not eat and even the way it is cooked. Some things she likes raw she doesn’t necessarily like cooked and vice-versa. As an example she likes and will eat tomatoes providing they are cooked but she will not eat their skin. Again, she loves pickled onions but hates them raw or cooked. Many things I like she dislikes of course but there are many things we both enjoy eating. In many places in the world people eat strange things, strange to us that is. In some countries it is quite normal to eat meats we would as a nation consider improper, things like dog, camel and rat just to name three. Most people in this country stick to eating beef, lamb, mutton, pork, veal, chicken, turkey and other such animal meats, drawing the line at anything outside of these. I am not saying that other countries populations are wrong but for many in this country they would be considered as such. In fact about 80% of the nations of the world have insects on the menu, it just hasn’t become part of our menu, yet. I heard recently that there are plans afoot to introduce the eating of insects in this country as a means of providing another source of food in a world that may be heading toward difficult times in supplying the population’s needs.  No doubt there will be many proponents of this but I’m certain that I won’t be one of them! Again, I am not saying the habit of eating insects is wrong, it just isn’t right for me and I know with some certainty that will be the case for E too! In the far east eating insects is quite normal and simply part of the lifestyle but I am thinking it will be a long time before it will be considered normal in the UK, though I may be wrong in that assumption. The question is, would you eat insects as part of your diet? Have you ever eaten insects or have you been eating them for a long time? I can safely say that I have never knowingly eaten insects except perhaps by mistake! They are filled with protein I am led to believe and I don’t know about you but I think I prefer to get my protein from other sources thank you very much!

Shirley Anne

They’ll soon be back

A sketch from a short article on my website ab...

A week or so ago I was working in a house trying to trace a fault in the first floor lighting circuit and found myself clambering around in the loft. Unlike many lofts spaces this one had been floored, that is floorboards had been laid by the householder. Loft spaces should never be floored unless they were originally planned that way because the joists are generally not deep enough to take a heavy load. That doesn’t stop people doing it anyway and then piling up as many boxes and pieces of furniture up there for storage. I wonder why such stuff is kept in lofts as it usually remains there for years untouched and obviously not required. I have seen bedroom ceilings sagging under the weight of too many things stored in the loft above. This particular loft area was small however and there were enough supporting walls beneath to make it safe to store things. Now I won’t normally start shifting boxes and other things around someone’s loft unless it is minimal. That’s not part of my job, it is up to the customer to clear spaces for people to work in. That being the case, I asked the customer to clear the area I wanted to work in. Whilst that was being done I remained in the loft to assist. I noticed a couple of house flies crawling about on the floor appearing very lethargic and unable to fly. I disposed of them and thought to myself it won’t be long before there will be thousands of them making a nuisance of themselves soon. we tend to think they all die off in the winter but that is far from true. They linger about in out-of-the-way places until the weather gets warmer. They are surprisingly resilient. I remember sitting in my office where I used to work and being pestered by one such creature who, despite me leaving the window fully open refused to fly out of it. I was working on a printed circuit and had a can of freezer spray for use on the electronic components whilst they were being soldered in place. I managed to spray the fly as it landed and continued to spray it until it was white and presumably frozen. It began to thaw out and then it flew away. I couldn’t believe my eyes. This is the only drawback to warmer weather, the nuisance we call flying insects. I discovered the fault by the way. A cable had been trapped under a floorboard on top of which had been placed some heavy objects. the cable was burned through and was in danger of starting a fire that would have had plenty of material to fuel it had I not discovered it when I did. There would be no flies and probably no house in that event.

Shirley Anne

Good place to live?

Female black widow spider guarding an egg case...
Female black widow spider guarding an egg case – Species Latrodectus mactans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People in this country are good at moaning about the weather. I can guarantee that most folk that I meet and talk with in my day will have something to say about the weather. If it is raining they will call the weather ‘lousy’ or ‘rotten’ and many lately I suppose would be justified seeing as they’ve been suffering because of the floods in parts of the country. If it is cold, windy or whatever, it will be mentioned. When the weather is warm and sunny then everyone is happy but still the comments come. Many people love this country and wouldn’t give ‘tuppence’ to live somewhere else but many long to leave these shores for warmer climes. When you think about it this country is a great place to live and if you exclude the potential threats through criminal activity it is a very safe place to live. Other countries have the same social problems as we do, there are criminals all over the world wanting to live off the back of society without making any useful contributions. A thief is a thief no matter where you live. Living in a foreign land can be fraught with danger, depending upon where that country is but it isn’t solely from the human population. Deadly insects and dangerous animals are a serious threat to the unwary in far-off places. Away from the big cities wild animals such as bears, wolves, crocodiles, snakes and spiders are ready to do you harm if you are not careful. The larger animals may be easier to avoid but the smaller ones are not. Imagine having to check for the presence of a tarantula or black widow spider each time you open a box or a cupboard or move some item of furniture in your own house! People get bitten by snakes when they forget basic principles of safety. Going to sleep in a tropical country can leave you totally vulnerable to mosquito bites unless precautions are taken. One thing you can say about this country is that we are not, generally speaking, in danger from its wildlife. Wolves and bears no longer roam the countryside and we do not have any insect species which pose a threat in the normal course of events. The insects which live here are more of a nuisance than a threat although they can be responsible for spreading disease if we give them the opportunity. I would think that it is only the insects we should be wary of and that goes for anywhere in the world except in the coldest places. I am not forgetting plant life  and the various poisonous plants we have in this country but they pose less of a threat unless we eat them or manhandle one or two of them such as foxgloves, laburnum flowers, certain fungi and wild berries and others. If we really think about it we are open to all kinds of threats from nature and there is no real place we can go to avoid it but some places are more dangerous than others. No, there is a lot to be said for living in this country and I for one think it is a good place to live, don’t you?

Shirley Anne

Not as many

English: Collage showing the diversity of inse...
English: Collage showing the diversity of insect species. Insect species clockwise from top to bottom left: 1. Long dance fly (Empis livida) 2. Long Nosed Weevil (Rhinotia hemistictus) 3. Assassin bug in the family Reduviidae sub-family Harpactocorinae 4. Mole Cricket (Gryllotalpa brachyptera) 5. Emperor gum moth (Opodiphthera eucalypti) 6. European Wasp (Vespula germanica) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am not sure about elsewhere but where I live I can’t say that I’ve been bothered much with flying insects this past Summer as with previous ones. Perhaps there just haven’t been as many as usual. I remember one year we were plagued with green-fly and other small flies but on one day some years ago I recall there being  vast swarms of Ladybugs or Ladybirds as they are also called. Now those insects I do not mind, they don’t seem to pester like other insects do, especially wasps, hornets and bees. Ladybirds are most welcome because they eat green-fly! The one thing I don’t like about the warmer months is the increase in numbers of flying insect pests but ants can be and are a pest too. They are difficult to contain and are quite aggressive creatures for their size. I once read that insects that scurry away when disturbed are usually completely harmless but those that retaliate usually are not. I can see the reasoning in that statement. At home we have plenty of the harmless insects living with us, spiders. Fortunately they do serve a useful purpose in keeping other insect pest numbers down but unfortunately they do like spinning their webs all over the place!   One thing we do seem to have in plenty supply are slugs and snails, more snails than slugs though. For many years now there have been very few sparrows about. Once a very populous breed of bird here in the UK its numbers fell into decline for no apparent reason and nobody seemed to know why. Perhaps they do now but still the numbers are very low. I happened to be standing at my window just looking out at the front garden when a sparrow suddenly appeared hopping about beneath the branches of a bush we have. It was picking up insects to eat. It didn’t stop long then off it flew somewhere else. I do hope we see more of that little bird and they eat insect pests too!

Shirley Anne