First thing in the morning it sometimes feels like I am tech support for the little people. During the holiday season we allow half an hour of screen time. It usually involves minecraft, but it all has to work first.  The devices are temperamental. One of them is old and requires the occasional reboot, or its certificate refreshed with the router (by turning it off and on again of course).  The other device behaves most of the time.  Although sometimes it refuses to see the shared minecraft worlds.  I don’t know why. All I do know is that when it doesn’t work the little lady throws a mini tantrum declaring, “Just give me the world! That’s all I want!”


Today I decided to try and fix two very annoying noises.  One was a bad belt in my car.  For weeks now a little high pitched whine has developed while idling the engine.  A dodgy alternator? A dying pulley bearing?  I hoped it was simply the belt.  Tightening it helped a bit, which is a good sign. I could call it a fan belt, however in most engines it is not connected to the fan at all. Calling it a fan belt is engineering nostalgia, a bit like windmills that no longer mill anything but electrons. The other annoying noise was something I did not want to face fixing.  So, I started by replacing the belt and the first noise went away.  Unfortunately this did not take very long, which meant I had to move on to the other noise.


For a very long time now our shower has been problematic.  It got stuck at a particular temperature; quite hot.  Not scalding hot, just bearable hot as long as I kept the thermostat low on the boiler that heats the water. I even tried to fix it once, a long time ago.  The direct cut off valves to the shower were nowhere to be found in the crawl spaces around the cottage.  Instead, I let the water tank drain and then tried to remove the “thermostat cartridge” from the shower.  It did not move.  I threw everything I had into it but it did not budge. I gave up, retreated to give the problem time and thought. That was many months ago. Then it began to call to me.  Drip. Drip. Drip.


The drips were slow at first, a small reminder that the problem would not go away.  Fix me……………………………….Fix me……………………………….Fix me ……………………………… Then, Fix me……….Fix me……….Fix me………. And for the last few weeks; FIX ME FIX ME FIX ME FIX ME FIX ME FIX ME.


The system was drained and I faced the stubborn shower. It was a showdown of brass and steel meets determination.  I gave it an ultimatum; today I will not give up.  You will be fixed, and if that fails, I might call a plumber. In the end it was all about having the wrong tools for the wrong job. I might have drawn some blood, maybe crushed a finger tip, but it did get fixed.  Instead of a spanner for the stuck cartridge I used a strange device I found at the bottom of my toolbox.  It looks like a handle attached to a bicycle chain and is used for removing oil filters from cars.  It is just the device I might use for a stuck filter out of futile politeness, right before I resort to stabbing a screwdriver into the filter and then unscrewing it with the screwdriver acting as a sort of chisel.  So, the cartridge unscrewed with this bicycle chain device, and a hammer.  I always find a hammer useful in plumbing jobs.


The cartridge was stripped down and all the relevant washers were replaced.  Now there is silence.  To be fair, there was silence a few hours ago and no hot shower, only stone cold freezing water.  After draining the system, removing the cartridge again and a little tinkering, there is now a hot shower with controllable temperature, and silence.  No dripping water torture, just the delightful quiet of a house full of children running and yelling and generally behaving like children do.

During the Neolithic period the bones of the dead were buried inside their houses, beneath the floor, or close to them. There must have been a motivation to keep the physical memories of their loved ones so close.  Contrasting with this was the practice of keeping the bones of a few people interred inside passage tombs on the high places. Why? Were these people important? Chiefs? If they were important people then I would imagine their bones would have been kept close, like family.  This puzzle has never sat well with me. Of course I realise it is all a wild leaping of conjecture with so little evidence, but I like to let my imagination run.

Slieve Gullion passage tomb is the highest passage tomb in Ireland.  It sits in the Ring of Gullion; an area steeped in folklore. A few months ago a friend took me on my first trip to see the summit passage tomb.  I had wanted to see it, to sit inside it, for a long time. It did not disappoint.



It is said that this passage tomb is aligned to the sunset on the winter solstice and could be up to 6000 years old. When I visited I was under the impression that it was the house of the dead; a pilgrimage place.  I imagined the long midwinter walk with the bones of lost family or friends.

Yet, there is a new possibility. The prehistoric tombs that may have been used as ‘telescopes’.

Sitting in the inner chamber allowed a better, darker, view of the small patch of sky down the narrow passage.  I imagine that most of the stargazing would have been done in the darker winter months.  Inside the dark stones on the high places; the coldest places. A fire would have been impractical to the astronomers dark-adjusted eyes. Presumably they spent long hours wrapped up and watching that one patch of sky to time or measure the stars movements.  When to plant a particular crop, when to slaughter the surplus animals before winter, when to carry out ceremonies. It would have been a strange and lonely place to spend your time, but maybe it was a kind of home.  Maybe it makes sense that these places were the resting place for the bones of ancient astronomers.

I think I can handle a little light drizzle or a bit of rain while I’m working in the garden. Yet today was a too much at times. At one stage, one of many, I retired to the cottage to watch the hail stones coat the grass. It cleared quite suddenly and I stepped back out into the cold air to hear the lovely Sharon shout behind me, “A rainbow! A rainbow!” It was a remarkable rainbow. It was remarkably colourful and remarkably close to the ground. Then the moment of realisation came; the rainbow ended right in the middle of the turnip field which was just a donkey field away from where I was standing.  There I was with a spade already in my hand and thinking that moments like this present themselves less than once in a lifetime, then real treasure presented itself. The little people picked up on the excitement and wowed at the rainbow.  The little man spotted the double rainbow and I pointed out how the colours are reversed (I excluded the mathematical reasons). The little lady recited all the colours she could see, and the littlest man yelped something indecipherable but encouraging; this was the true treasure at the end of the rainbow.


As I poured in the sugar syrup and put the mouse guards on the hives tonight, I remembered the strange case of the mad mouse. It all began as I sat looking out the kitchen window and spotted something small running about on the roof of the wood shed. It was one of those strange moments when it is absurd enough to take a few seconds to sink in; a mouse running about on the roof in broad daylight.  Soon The little man and I were perched at the window with binoculars watching this mouse and its nonsense.  It ran over the roof as if looking for something, then ran to the apex and slipped under a bit of bent corrugated iron.  It might disappear for a few seconds only to reappear and carry on with its quest.  What this was, we were never sure. It never went into the gutter or near any moss, it just seemed to run about the roof.  The three seemingly overfed cats never put in an appearance as it ran about for a very long time. The little man asked mouse themed questions.  One of these was, “what do mouse bones look like? Are they like our bones?”  This might just prompt me to do a little experiment that I read about a long time ago.  Catch a mouse, kill it, then place it in a wire cage.  This can be left at the bottom of the garden.  As long as it is left long enough, and as long as the holes in the wire are small enough, no larger animals should steal the bones.  So, after a while the bones will be left and it ends up as a little mouse jigsaw puzzle of sorts. Is it bad that I think this is a fine father and son activity? At the very least we will have reduced the pest population by one.


The details were sketchy.  In spite of  reading  and re-reading emails and attachments, I could not find the details; the time and the place.  It seemed that they were assumed to be known to everyone but me; the new member of this secretive group.  I gave up and sent an email explaining that I was at a loss, then I waited.

On the morning of the meeting I received a reply that included directions. This named road, then that named road, before turning down another country lane before finding a track beside a neatly cut hedge.  When I read these I was skeptical that such a hedge could be distinguishable after half an hour’s driving along country lanes. Then I turned a corner and spotted an unusually neat hedge with a lane that took me to the meeting hut beside an old stone castle.  I half expected to find someone wearing a red carnation who would hand me a briefcase with the clue to the next part of my adventure.

As soon as I arrived I was welcomed warmly.  Slowly, more and more people arrived and mugs of tea and biscuits were distributed.  When they stood in small groups the conversation always started with the bees; “How are your bees?”  From there the conversations went off along different paths, but one thing was constant; the bees. At one point I veered away from the details of apiculture and opened up a little. In a conversation with one gentleman I revealed that in the winter I forgot all about the bees until, in Spring, I felt the bee fever and they began to occupy my dreams.  The man’s face seemed confused and a little shocked.  I suspected I had shared too much emotion and he must think me a dreamer and a dolt.  Then he stopped me and declared fervently, “No, No, I never forget them in Winter.  I can’t stop thinking  and dreaming about them all year.” The conversational paths would often come back to one serious point; winter losses.  When someone shared news of a lost colony the others would hang their heads in experienced sympathy. A story circulated about someone who knew someone who lost seven colonies. Faces winced along with a sharp intake of breath through teeth, as if they had been revealed the gruesome details of an industrial accident.

When we were all certain that anybody that needed a cup of tea or a biscuit was provided for, we all settled into our seats for a presentation about the rare flora and fauna of the Causeway Coast.  It was about then that I realised that these people weren’t obsessed with bees.  These people were obsessed with life and the world around them and I felt welcome in such company.


I plan to use the electricity from a car battery to encourage the chickens to lay eggs.  It is not through some gruesome electroshock therapy, but with light.  They are tied to light and the tide of the seasons.  I plan to trick them.


Last year the eggs stopped coming around this time of year and did not begin to return until the end of January.  This year, out of ten hens only the two youngest have continued to lay.  Even now they are slowing down to an egg only every few days. It’s amazing that they are so domesticated that they do this at all.  Under the pressures and margins of commercial farming, a chicken has been bred that can lay an egg every twenty five hours nearly all year.  The wild birds must look on with shock at this ability. Although the wild birds have limited energy, having to forage far and wide at the whims of the seasons.  The chickens get everything given to them.  The chickens might argue that everything is taken away.

We live in darkness. Around midwinter the day will be only seven hours long, and most of that is usually dull and grey.  This is where the elecktrickery comes in…. A car batter, a timer, and six hundred lumens of LED light might fool them into spring.  Light controls their cycles, needing only nine or ten hours of dark roosting.  I feel a little bit guilty with this con, but then I also feel guilty buying eggs from the shop.  A little of the guilt might be offset if I rig up our small solar panel to it.  If that works then there may be a certain poetry to the setup.  Instead of using electricity I will be using the battery to bottle the sunlight and give them a little back in the long winter nights.

My laptop hard drive failed tonight. It failed with a creaking squealing sound that hard drives shouldn’t make. I shrugged my shoulders and remained philosophical. The lovely Sharon seemed concerned, “what about all your work?” I shrugged my shoulders again, “sure it’s all in the clouds.” We both looked out the window and contemplated the overcast sky. “And anyway, it’s just an old laptop that somebody else wanted to throw away. The hard drive was probably on it’s last days anyway.” She looked at her laptop, also recycled. Or should I say pre-loved, full of apps and not programs? “Do laptops just fail?” It felt like a conversation we should be having if we were four years old, about our pets. “Don’t worry, we always have the clouds.” She switched back to being concerned about me, “so, what are you going to do?” By this stage I had found an old unwanted laptop hard drive and swapped it for the squealing one. It booted up and the familiar linux login screen appeared. Less concerned with me now the lovely Sharon looked at her own laptop again, “I hate linux, it’s so frustrating.”
“But, it’s free. Most of the internet runs on linux, or so I’m told.”
“It’s still frustrating.”
“Besides, how would people know you are a geek if you aren’t using linux?” She just shook her head. Silence.

After a few moments the laptop was back on its feet and had synced all its ‘apps’, connected to the clouds. Concerned again, but this time for my nerdiness and not for my laptop, “did you just have a spare hard drive just sitting already set up?”
“I was saving it for a cloudy day”

“It’s raining, should we still go?” I looked outside as if to acknowledge the question, even though I had just come in from cleaning out the hen house. I replied that we should go, we would be mad not to. The lovely Sharon’s question was not about the fact that we should go walking in the rain, it was about getting stuck in a heavy downpour with the little ones. The weather front seemed slow moving and more damp than menacing.

Wrapped up in layers and hats, we found ourselves in Acorn Wood. We have found ourselves visiting here a lot recently. Acorn Wood has been set up by its local community of volunteers who look after its grounds, ducks, geese, swans, chickens, rabbits, guinea fowl and pheasants. It even has a little fairy village hidden away in the woods, but I think they look after themselves.


There was water all around us. Water drizzling from the sky, water dripping from the points of twigs and yellow leaves. Water splatting in the puddles under our feet and a soft fur of water covering the hats on our heads. Even our breath was saturated and wet the air in front of us. In such weather at this time of year I can’t help myself from constantly stopping and staring. Gazing at the running river, at piles of fallen leaves, at rooks in the trees.


After a few hours the thought of food and the wood stove brought us home. After a wet autumn walk I can think of no better smell than that of damp hats and gloves drying by the stove. Later there was a different smell from the stove. Autumn is the season for rolling out fistfuls of hazelnuts on top of the wood stove. We sit back and patiently wait for the slight hint of burning before we lift them off and try and eat them when they are too hot and burn our fingers. The lovely Sharon believes roasted chestnuts are superior to hazelnuts. I will have to disagree with her on this matter.


It has been discovered that hazelnuts were harvested in large amounts on the Scottish island of Colonsay nine thousand years ago. Annually, neolithic man made a trip to the trees and collected them to roast them on the island in what must have been very large fires. It seems that roasted hazelnuts can be stored longer than fresh ones, a fact we knew nine thousand years before best before dates. I can’t help but picture them sitting around the fire on a damp autumn night with the smell of roasting nuts and drying hats.

So there I was reading the little man his bedtime book. We delved into the realms of story and make believe, a world with morals and lessons around every corner. This particular story (spoiler alert) was about a tiger who did not want to go to bed. His mother decided to let him learn his lesson and told him he could stay up all night. He went searching for his friends, the lion, hippo, elephant etc. only to find them all in various stages of bedtime preparation. Eventually he wandered back home exhausted and regretting not going to bed. This was a nice little story which was spoiled by the visit to the elephants.

I know there is something wrong with me, but seeing the moon like that upset me so much. It could not be unseen. With the setting sun on the right the moon should be a crescent facing the other way around as it is lit up by the sun. The same realisation happens when I see actors drinking from empty cups.

It ruined it for me. I know it shouldn’t upset me, but it does.

There are some unexpected aspects of pregnancy that you don’t read about in books.  One of these is the ratchet effect.  This is a consequence of having a large bump and having to sleep on the left side of your body.  For many nights now I have observed the ratchet effect in the lovely Sharon.  She lies on her left side until she feels uncomfortable.  Then she turns onto her back momentarily before turning back onto her left side.  When this happens the bump takes the bedsheets with it.  When this repeats itself over and over in the night it leaves me with the edge of the sheets feeling cold.  For some reason I just let it happen and i’m not sure why.  It could be that it forces me closer to her so that I can bury my nose in her hair.  The tickly-ness of her hair is worth enduring for the lovely smell.  Or it could be because I am scared of waking her and facing the anger of the ratchet.

An accurately labeled coffee mug.

Topologically accurate.

A bubble inside a drop of water, on board the space station.

by André Kuipers

lego bridge – source

well played google

I love tomato bread but could never seem to find some being sold anywhere. So I decided to try and make my own. After lots of experimentation I have settled into something that seems to work for me.

I start with ten grams of salt and two hundred and seventy millilitres of water. I actually use two hundred and seventy grams of water as the density of water is… never mind.

Then I add five hundred grams of strong white bread flour, or very strong white bread flour. I find that Canadian flour is the best and it really does make a difference. I have been told that the Canadian flour is healthier too as it has more selenium.

Then I chop up about two hundred grams of sun dried tomatoes. I use the ones in jars of oil. I drain them a little but let some of the oil stay on them. I have used the sun dried tomatoes from a deli a few times, but found that I had to dip them in oil as they were too dry and the oil add flavour and liquid to the bread mix.

Then I add ten grams of dried yeast before I put it all in the bread mixer set to a standard bread mix setting.

The bread mixer seems to be able to knead it better than I can by hand. It takes an hour and a half to finish its cycle. I leave it in the mixer for another half hour or so before knocking the air out of it and shaping it into two loafs.

At this point I turn our oven up to max; eleven on the Marshal scale. While the temperature is rising to ridiculous levels I cover the bread with a damp cloth and leave it for another half hour or so.

Then the kettle is boiled and when it is ready I put the bread in the oven then pour the boiling water into a pre heated bowl in the oven. Of course the bread maker can bake the bread but I find that it dose not taste as good. A good oven that can get to very high temperatures makes the bread taste better by far. The process can be helped by using an oven stone. They can be purchased for about twenty pounds. Alternatively, I used a ninety pence flag stone that I cut down to size with an angle grinder. It has roughly the same specific heat capacity as … never mind.

For our oven, eighteen minutes is usually enough to produce some nice bread. I call it disappearing tomato bread because that’s what it usually does. Today I made two loaves and tonight they are both gone without me even getting a chance to taste them!

I have read that among some cultures it is a bit of a competition to find the moon.  It is a thing to seek after and share that you spotted it first; the moon renewing its cycle.  By the time the new cycle is spotted, it will have spent some time hidden from us all.  And before that, hidden from most of us who are not mad enough to be looking at the sky before dawn.  I imagine to myself that long ago it was probably a habit of most of us to try and find the moon.  It should be on its way back now.  It should be on its usual steady and ageless plod through the heavens. It is now be starting to reveal itself to us again if we care to look for it.

waxing crescent moon by Glass_House

We are definitely in the middle of spring, but there are still no little fluffy chicks.  The hatching is expected to happen on Friday or Saturday.  That is, of course, if they are viable little chicks.  It is really hard to tell what will happen.  Last night we candled the eggs again to find things progressing well for two of them with the third egg remaining enigmatic.  We have to prepare for the best with the eggs and therefore set up the brooder box.

The brooder consists of some scraps of wood set up as a box with a drinker, feeder, and the all important source of heat.  The one thing we are missing at the moment is the chick food.  The feed that we use for the chickens in specially made for hens that lay and egg a day every day.  The levels of calcium in this feed is set for the construction of massive amounts of egg shell.  Such feed would destroy a chick’s kidneys if their heart did not fail first.  We need to get the chick food sorted soon.

On Sunday I decided that the conditions were right to dive into the other bee hive.  I have put off this moment as the ‘other hive’ has always been a little on the feisty side.  It is not just their attitude before the winter that I have worried about; it is also the condition they are in now.  When watch the hive entrances the ‘other hive’ always seems to have less than half the traffic.  There are also more dead bees dumped at the front of the ‘other hive’.  The extra piece of information that saddens me about this hive is that they refused to fly on bright, but cold, winter days. In my head I had all sorts of ideas about what could be wrong; a lost queen, a poorly mated queen or disease.  So, I opened up the hive to expecting to find a pitiful sight.  Instead I found it bursting with bees, much more bees than the hive I checked only a few days earlier.  It turns out that the hive is thriving even though they don’t seem to like to be out and about in the cold weather.  I had no option but to put on a super.  A super is the box used to harvest the honey that the bees make.  It does seem so very strange that this time last year I obtained my first hive which only had half as much bees as any one of my hives now.  It also means I have to keep a close eye on these hives.  Lots of bees mean they may have a mind to swarm.  Last year my fear of swarming was a terror of the concept of it.  Now that I have been through the process, and thoroughly enjoyed it, I now see it as a potential loss of my precious bees.  A loss of productivity.

Different creatures have different strategies for coping with the winter.  Honeybees build up their stores of honey to see them through, we rely on our community and the wider global market, and wasps (and bumble bees) put all their eggs in the one basket.

Wasps and bumble bees let all their hard working daughters and sons die off, leaving only a small amount of queens at the end of the autumn.  These queens find warm areas to hide themselves away over the cold winter months.  They find south facing hedges, or living room curtains in which to fall asleep into and dream of the summer.

When spring comes they fight for survival.  They struggle to establish a small hive of daughters.  If all goes well for them their daughters take over the struggle and leave the queen in the comfort of the hive.  So, if you see an unusually large wasp at this time of year, then kill it.  Make it your mission to ensure it is dead and gone.  Doing so condemns thousands of wasps to death; the thousands of potential eggs that she carries inside herself.  And if you see a larger than normal bumble bee at this time of year then you must do the opposite.  Ensure that it is unharmed and that she is safe in the world as the bumble bee is not a pest.  The bumble bee is being persecuted by our pesticides and herbicides.

Today I had a quick look at the bee hives and spotted a very large wasp lying dead at the entrance to one of the hives.  She was a queen who must have been desperate for food.  Desperate to feed her young babies in this fluctuating fickle spring.  She must have been insane too.  What was she thinking when she tried to enter a honeybee hive packed with a couple of thousand venomous honeybees.  Whatever she thought, I was proud of the bees.

It is ten in the evening and I have just had dinner. Sometimes going to get medicine for a little man’s chest infection puts insignificant things like dinner time way down on the list of priorities.  Having dinner so late is just a minor part of a mis-synchronisation I have been feeling over the last few days.  Yesterday I arrived back into my home time zone from a ski trip.  I set my clocks back an hour after having moved them forward the day before due to the spring leap forward of summer time, then I let the plane and coach journeys drift through me.

This morning I did not know where, or when, I was.  I woke up thinking I was in Norway and began to think about the day ahead on the mountain.  Then I mentally shook off the sleepiness and reminded myself that I was at the cottage and ready to go to school.  Sidereal time helps the readjustment.  The clockwork of the sun moon and stars helps me relax into real time, not watches, clocks and mobile phones.

a moment captured before going off-piste

I am glad, and surprised, to say that the stars did not feel like home in Norway.  The trip and the experience were amazing, and the chance of a lifetime.  I am not saying that I felt out of place, it is just interesting that the stars were positioned differently and were an unexpected extra experience to be enjoyed. The pole star and its turning companions were slightly shifted, being higher in the sky and out of there usual tilted seat.

the Norwegian jupiter, venus and moon on Saturday evening

The moon was no different though, it was a reminder of the steadiness of this turning world. It is this sidereal time that I try to set my internal clock to.

jupiter, venus and the moon last night at the cottage

Wow, the automatic bookmark…….here

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