Wednesday, 25 August 2010

A South Downs Sojourn

Southern Green Shieldbug Nezara viridula
Image credit: Luis Nunes Alberto, January 2008

‘Will you please stop harassing those ants?!’ 
‘But they like it…!’

I would love to say that this request was directed at the Small Person but no, it was I who was the recipient, and I place the blame almost entirely at the rather delicious feet of Nature Chris from CBeebies’ 'Green Balloon Club'. During the show’s ‘holiday visit’ to the Isle of Arran, the gorgeous ginger-haired one demonstrated how, by gently inserting and wiggling a stick into an anthill, one’s efforts would normally be rewarded by a show of teeming ants. With this in mind, when faced with a field full of anthills what else could I do - if only to rekindle a fond TV moment?

Having left the Small Person in the more-than-capable hands of her Nanny, my lovely Other Half and I were enjoying an hour or so on our own, exploring a wildflower meadow on the eastern edge of the South Downs. It was a warm day, intermittently sunny and overcast with a light, refreshing breeze. Off we went, hand-in-hand, to see what we could find. Needless to say, the hand-holding didn’t last long, as the urge to rummage, fondle, poke and probe quickly took over (amongst the plants and undergrowth…you dirty-minded people!).

Whilst my Other Half was off peering at flowering plants, or ‘botanising’ as we’ve taken to affectionately label the activity, I was seeking out things of the more mobile variety, and I was not to be disappointed. Being late summer, the air was alive with the ceaseless chirrup of grasshoppers and field crickets, and virtually every step taken produced an orthopteran leap of varying magnitude. Common and Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus icarus and P. coridon) butterflies flitted this way and that, their deeply-hued thoraxes shimmering alluringly in the sunlight, hoverflies darted about under my nose, and closer examination of foliage revealed 7-spot ladybirds (Coccinella 7-punctata), shiny red soldier beetles (Rhagonycha fulva), flies and small bugs galore, and a particularly bright Southern Green Shieldbug (Nezara viridula), the latter a recent arrival in the UK from its native Africa.

But it was the anthills that insisted on continually grabbing my attention. Being something of a self-confessed ant aficionado, it was hardly really surprising, and I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t get down on my hands and knees for a closer inspection of each and every earthy mound. Not all of the anthills released pourings of their occupants when gently poked but those that did, well, I could have watched them for hours! It is my understanding that the species making its home in this particular meadow is Tapinoma erraticum, a small black ant, superficially similar in appearance to Lasius niger, found in the south of England, usually in coastal areas. Interestingly, the species has no sting and appears not to squirt formic acid; instead, as its defence, it uses its ability to run like the entomological equivalent of the cheetah, thus outrunning other ant species! This information is rather reassuring, as at one point in my investigations, I did discover that my left arm was being used as an ant racing track…

Of course, being a wild flower meadow, it would be rude not to mention the plants. I was relying on my lovely Other Half to keep all botanical records; however, the notebook used is currently awol, so I’m having to delve into my memory to come up with a very abbreviated list of plants seen. The South Downs is an area of chalk downland, thus geologically very different from our usual stomping grounds (Cornwall, in particular West Penwith, being predominantly granite), which means that there were a good number of species not routinely encountered during previous ‘botanising’ ventures.

(Very) abbreviated list:

• Black Medick Medicago lupulina
• Blue fleabane Erigeron acer
• Common Toadflax (henceforth to be known as ‘Toadflaps’ in honour of a friend’s slip of the tongue) Linaria vulgaris
• Fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica
• Hemp Agrimony Eupatorium cannabinum
• Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris
• Perforate St. John’s Wort Hypericum perforatum
• Ploughman’s Spikenard Inula conyza
• Ragwort Senecio jacobaea
• Red clover Trifolium pratense
• Rosebay Willowherb Chamerion angustifolium
• Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica
• Sycamore Acer pseudoplanatus
• Traveller's Joy Clematis vitalba
• Wild Carrot (NB. I particularly enjoyed playing ‘Spot the single red flower in the centre of the flower head’) Daucus carota

Rosebay Willowherb Chamerion angustifolium
Image credit: Bff, March 2010

Thursday, 12 August 2010

A slimy alien being...

Common Knapweed Centaurea nigra
Image credit: Maedin Tureaud

On Tuesday, after spending most of the day stuck inside, by late-afternoon I was in danger of going more than a little stir-crazy, and so it was decided that the Small Person and I would take ourselves out for an amble around the village. What followed was a lovely walk in refreshing light rain, incorporating traipsing through a couple of recently-ploughed muddy fields (dry but oh so dusty), getting on our hands and knees to smell the delicious perfume of Scented Mayweed (Matricaria recutita), finding a very bizarre slime mould (more on that later), observing the efficacy of the council’s attempts at Japanese Knotweed  (Fallopia japonica) eradication, fondling some beautiful Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) flowers (so, so pretty), and attempting to judge how long it would be until the blackberries would be ripe enough to pick.

Another highlight of the walk was experiencing the simple ambience of a field that in the last year or so has been left to become a more natural meadow, having previously been mown from here to eternity. A wide path has been mown through the field, in such a way that the vistas produced by the natural growth of thistles, Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium), Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) and all manner of wild plants are both pleasing to the eye and to the heart. Mind you, due to the wetness of the tall grass, we were unable to reach the old drinking trough which is now home to all manner of am aquatic life, including newts (species as yet unknown). However, I will definitely be back there again soon.

Now, back to the slime mould. All around the edge of the municipal cemetery in our village are planted stately Monterey Pines (Pinus radiata). Unfortunately, the trees are nearing the end of their natural lifespan, and in recent years, a number of them have been felled, leaving behind interesting tree stumps. Not being one to walk past a tree stump without a quick peek to see what life it is supporting, I soon found myself peering this way and that, poking at this, sniffing and that, and it was then that I came across something that I don’t recall ever seeing previously. What I was looking at was about five centimetres in length and one centimetre wide, was pale yellow in colour, and looked like a mass of tiny opaque eggs. Tentatively venturing a gentle touch, I found it the ‘alien being’ to be unexpectedly soft, so decided to leave it alone to avoid any inadvertent damage, making a mental note of its appearance and circumstances.

Once home, after a rather long-winded hunt on the Internet and in various Mycology books, I found my intriguing specimen - the immature form of the slime mould Tubifera ferruginosa, which when mature looks very different. I haven’t included a picture (for copyright reasons) but here are some links to piccies:

I’m hoping to go back there this afternoon, to see how it’s coming along; that is, if it stops raining.

Perseid meteor shower, 2009
Image credit: Jared Tennant
And don’t forget, it’s the peak of the Perseids meteor shower tonight, so fingers crossed for clear skies and a lack of light pollution.

Unexpected pleasures

Greater Water Boatman Notonecta glauca
Image credit: Holger Gröschl 2003
Don’t you just love those impromptu days, when a flying visit to a friend turns into a delightful few hours of laughter and good company? This is what yesterday afternoon was like; however, the morning and night before did their utmost to convince me that I was in for a rough day, so ‘Ha ha, that’ll teach ‘em’!

One of the less obvious symptoms of Narcolepsy is insomnia. In fact, the common assumption that Narcolepsy means that a person with the condition sleeps excessively is, in reality, a misconception. Rather, in the simplest of terms, Narcolepsy is a disruption of the sleep-wake cycle, meaning that whilst a person is prone to falling asleep at inappropriate times or in unusual situations, a person is also likely to be awake at ‘inappropriate’ times. My personal experience of this aspect seems to be an out-of-sync circadian rhythm, whereby every once in a while, I will be wide awake until the small hours, only to be woken two hours later by the Small Person, who keeps more conventional hours. On other nights, it’s not unusual to be forced into bed by overwhelming sleepiness at only 8pm!

Well, the night before was one of my insomniac nights - the upside of this being that during which I achieved a massive amount of long-overdue household admin! After completing my mission (3am), I was still not ready to sleep, so decided to do some light reading before finally going to sleep at about 4am, only to dream of lying in a tent over and over again watching camels and capybaras loom nearer and nearer until vanishing into nothingness the moment they were upon me.

As predicted, at 6am, it was, ‘Mum, can we get up?’, ‘Mum, can I have breakfast?’, ‘Mum...’. Eventually, my grunted and/or monosyllabic responses convinced the Small Person that if she wanted to get up, she would to have to do so by herself, and I was left to return to my slumbers. All was going well, until the desire to empty my bladder became overwhelming, and I knew that any attempt at further sleeping would be fruitless.

So, I roused myself and took myself downstairs to the bathroom, which overnight seemed to have been filled with all of the painting equipment (including a small wardrobe) from the Small Person’s new bedroom. Used to my Other Half’s strange behaviours by now, I thought nothing of it, and simply squeezed my bum onto the toilet. Frustratingly, despite being desperate, I couldn’t go to the toilet, but instead found myself calmly thinking, ‘Oh, that’s because my brain thinks that I’m still asleep and that this is a hallucination… never mind, I’ll try again later’. So, off I went, back upstairs and back into bed. Only then did I realise that I hadn’t actually left my bed, and that all this really was a hallucination - to be specific, a ‘hypnopompic hallucination’ referring to a hallucination that occurs upon waking, the other being ‘hypnagogic’ (upon falling asleep) - or, as I like to collectively call them, the HH’s.

I took a deep breath and willed myself to wake up, using all the strength I could muster to force my eyes to open and my brain to function normally in the ‘real’ world. Eventually it worked, and I lay blinking away, determined not to let my eyelids close for more than a second, knowing that if I did, I’d be straight back in Weirdo La La Land (another term of affection). It took some effort, believe me, but eventually I made it off the bed, disorientated and with a fuzzy head. Anyone would think I’d had a good old night on the town - if only!

Usually when I’ve had a night/morning like that described above, for the remainder of the following day, I’m of use to neither man nor beast, and my inner recluse will come to the fore. But yesterday was different. The Small Person’s company had been requested by a lovely neighbour whose daughter and her young family were visiting, and mid-afternoon, off we traipsed (rather excitedly) to the house over the road for a ‘play date’. After a few tentative moments, the Small Person was off happily being a train, running around and around the garden, in and out of tunnels, over piles of slate, before resting to paddle in the pond and to investigate the resident bugs (Greater Waterboatmen (aka ‘Backswimmers’) Notonecta glauca), then ultimately eating beans on toast and a strawberry fromage frais. Meanwhile, the so-called ‘Grown Ups’ chilled out with some basking in the greenhouse (accompanied by some staring in awe at the super-huge tomatoes), a recline in the summerhouse, and a cup of (peppermint for me) tea in the kitchen. A bug hunt behind the village hall is scheduled for today or tomorrow, and magnifying glasses are at the ready!

My neighbour is a horticulturist, and as such, her garden is a plantsman’s delight. In addition to the Water Boatmen, our leisurely afternoon was accompanied by bees, bees and more bees, butterflies (Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) and Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), black ants (Lasius niger) and all manner of flies.

'til tomorrow...

Monday, 9 August 2010

Do flies go paddling?



‘Mum? Do flies go paddling?’

‘Um, what?’

‘Do flies go paddling?’

‘Well - perhaps, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen any wearing wellies or swimsuits…’

This question was sprung on me whilst preparing breakfast this morning, and it led to a rather surreal discussion about what it would take for a fly to drown whilst ‘paddling’, the conclusion being that a huge wave of water catching the fly unawares would definitely cause one or two problems. The question also led to a rather less surreal and arguably more interesting discussion about those insects that have evolved to live at least some of the lives in water (without drowning!), such as mayflies, stone flies, caddis flies and dragonflies - all partially aquatic, and diving beetles, water boatmen, water scorpions and some species of springtail, which spend all stages of their lives in water. After succeeding in spending three-or-so minutes discussing some of the means of leading a fully aquatic life, unfortunately, the desire to consume a sweet-smelling bowl of cereal on the part of the Small Person soon took precedence. I guess that’s what happens when you’re only four-and-three-quarters!

Dr. Doolittle eat yer heart out!

Pea aphids extracting sap from the stem and leaves of garden peas
Image credit: Shipher Wu (photograph) and Gee-way Lin (aphid provision), National Taiwan University

So, Sally, what did you do yesterday?

OK, I admit it. Yep, it was me sitting cross-legged on my garden path, with a lapful of pulled-up old pea plants, talking to little green aphids and little green caterpillars…

After another sleepy day on Saturday, when, ‘I’ll just have a quick snooze’ turned into a two-hour sleep (meaning also that I was unable to make the lovely evening meal that I’d been planning, and we had to have pasta instead - harrumph), I managed to stay fairly compos mentis for all of yesterday, and spent a delightful few hours pottering in the garden, completing some long-overdue tasks and enjoying the warming sunshine.

In addition to the above-mentioned pea-pulling and bug-conversing, after scrutinising for signs of animal life, I finally disposed of my very holey cabbage stumps, fed the tomatoes, pepper and carrots, sowed some more peas and beetroot, composted a load of plants that had definitely seen better days, and a thorough poke around.

We have the tiniest of gardens, and one which includes shared access for both sets of neighbours. Earlier this year, I decided to cut down the over-grown brambles at the back of the garden, and in doing so, discovered that there was quite a substantial bit of land under all the thorn vegetation - well, by our standards anyway, we’re only talking about 2 square metres! But this was all it took to spark a new-found obsession with gardening and growing things, and our little garden is now my pride and joy, especially since I extended onto the flat roof above our kitchen/bathroom, which is now a fully-functioning vegetable plot.

I’m very pleased to say that despite its size, the majority of flowering plants within the garden’s bounds are native/naturalised species, mainly specimens that have either come along with no deliberate human intervention, living happily alongside some plants that were planted deliberately, having been bought from responsible UK growers of British plants.

This year’s residents include the following:

• Bramble Rubus sp.
• Charlock Sinapsis arvensis
• Common Figwort Scrophularia nodosa
• Common Nettle Urtica dioica
• Cowslip Primula veris
• Common Toadflax Linaria vulgaris
• Enchanter’s Nightshade Circaea lutetiana
• Forget-me-not Myosotis sp.
• Groundsel Senecio vulgaris
• Hairy Bittercress Cardamine hirsuta
• Herb Robert Geranium robertianum
• Hoary Willowherb Epilobium parviflorum
• Honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum
• Ivy Hedera helix
• Ivy-leaved Toadflax Cymbalaria muralis
• Lobelia Lobelia erinus
• Monkshood Aconitum napellus
• Prickly Sow-thistle Sonchus asper
• Primrose Primula vulgaris
• Ragwort Senecio jacobaea
• Shepherd’s Purse Capsella bursa-pastoris
• Smooth Sow-thistle Sonchus oleraceus
• Teasel Dipsacus fullonum
• Valerian Valeriana officinalis
• Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca
• Wood Avens (Herb Bennett) Geum urbanum
• Woodruff Galium odoratum
• Yellow Iris Iris pseudacorus

I like to think that it is this abundance and variety of plants combined with my refusal to use any artificial chemicals that encourages the lovely creepy crawlies and other creatures to make use our garden, from the wasps (Vespa vulgaris) that appear to have taken up residence in one of the compost bins (alongside the seemingly ever-increasing population of fruitflies (Drosophila melanogaster)) to the noisy Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) that stomps around my rooftop vegetable plot as though sporting a pair of hob-nailed boots. Mind you, look closely enough in any garden, big or small, and you’ll most probably find something small and wiggly!

Yesterday’s fellow beings included a Cabbage Moth (Mamestra brassicae) caterpillar (the previously unidentified caterpillar found munching on my cabbages - funny that), lots of earthworms, slugs large and small, a single red velvet mite (Tombidium sp.), several buzzing hoverflies and bees, a tiny picture-winged fly and numerous spiders. The pea-pulling project was particularly productive, revealing a most handsome harvestman, several Small White (Pieris rapae) caterpillars (the little green ones), a couple of black thrips, a smattering of woodlice and aphid upon aphid upon aphid (Acyrthosiphum pisum)- some tiny, some big and juicy-looking, and man, did they manage to get themselves into some nooks and crannies, many of which were about my person, as I discovered later in the day… Where possible, all disturbed creatures were provided with a new home in a quiet corner of the garden.

Meanwhile, upstairs in the Small Person’s new bedroom-to-be, my Other Half could be heard talking to a wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) that had made its way indoors via the tiniest of gaps in the window. See, it’s not just me who talks to the wildlife!

Friday, 6 August 2010

Butterflies, beetles, bees, buns and beach balls

Hey, guess what happened yesterday? That’s right, I conked out before putting fingers to keyboard, coming to with computer mouse in hand, and no recollection of the TV programme that I’d been looking forward to watching...

Oh well, I had a lovely, lovely (if tiring) day yesterday (and a far, far less active day today!). Despite waking up to grey skies and a cool breeze, it wasn’t long before the sun put in an appearance, and I began to look forward to a few hours’ work ‘on the land’. As mentioned before, a group of like-minded families have been granted permission to turn a piece of derelict land into a wildlife garden. Fantastic! After several false starts and much ‘umming and aahing’ about how we were actually going to turn this overgrown ‘chaos’ of litter, nettles, ivy and lump upon lump of waste granite into a vision of wildlife-friendly gorgeousness, a few months ago, a plan materialised, and we are now cracking on nicely with turning the site around. OK, so at the moment it resembles a small, working quarry but it looks mightily different from what it did earlier in the year, and we’re feeling collectively quite proud of our achievements!

Yesterday made a pleasant change for me, as circumstances have meant that for the most part, I’m usually alone in my work. There was a proper little gang of us - young and old (well, not that old!) - and we managed to get lots done, including digging up unwanted stumps of Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), pulling up yet more unwelcome vegetation, shifting a big load of stone, and perhaps most enjoyably, having a ‘proper’ successful bug-spotting day (for those from Up Coun’ry - and that’s anywhere that isn’t Cornwall - that’ll be Cornish Speak, my ‘ansomes).

The children amongst us took great delight in investigating a bumblebee nest that I’d happened upon several weeks previously. True to form, as soon as we began working in close vicinity to their home, out came my furry friends to investigate, and it took some convincing to get the curious children to move away to a different part of the site, away from the buzzing creatures. As yet, the bees have not been identified to species level; however, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust produces a great (and printable) guide to bumblebee identification - - which I intend to take with me on my next visit. Not long after my encounter with the known resident bees, whilst shifting yet more lumps of granite, an almighty buzzing was suddenly heard, and I found myself face-to-face with one of the hugest bumblebees I’ve ever had the pleasure to see. For a while, it remained unaccompanied, and I was uncertain as to whether I’d come across another nest or a sole queen. But then there were two… this one equally as large as the first, both downright and categorically beautiful, especially as having been rather rudely disturbed, they were fairly inactive and remained still enough for me to have a good old nose at their fine figures of bumblebeeness!

Vapourer moth caterpillar
© Andrew Dunn, 8 July 2006

Soon after our encounters with bees, between us we were witness to not one but two newly emerged moths - the first a Common Footman (Eilema lurideola) and the second an Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa), the latter appearing on my torso, just below my shoulder, where it was at first mistaken for a leaf and momentarily brushed to the ground! Both appeared with only tiny, un-pumped wings, and we watched in awe as, in time, the insects took on their more recognisable form. Also on the moth front, my own Small Person found and befriended a very small Vapourer (Orgyia antique) caterpillar.

Now, if I had a working camera, I would be able to adorn this blog with photographs of my sightings; but alas, that is not to be. In the meantime, I’ve located some images that can I can use legally, so all is not lost, and please be assured that a new camera is right at the top of my ‘want’ list…

Other mini-beasts observed by the gang include the following:

7-spot Ladybird
Photo courtesy:

• Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta
• Large White Pieris brassicae
• 7-spot Ladybird Coccinella 7-punctata
• Violet Ground Beetle Carabus violaceus
• Flat-backed Millipede Polydesmus sp.
• Centipedes galore (species unknown)
• Common Pill Woodlouse Armadillidium vulgare
• Rosy Woodlouse Androniscus dentiger
• Common Rough Woodlouse Porcellio scaber
• Common Shiny Woodlouse Oniscus asellus
• Earthworm Lumbricus sp.
• Garden Snail Helix aspersa
• Great Black Slug Arion ater (brick-red, orange and grey forms)
• Yellow Slug Limax flavus

And later in the day:

Peacock butterfly
© Lewis Collard, 2009

• Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta
• Large White Pieris brassicae
• Peacock Inachis io
• Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae
• Soldier Beetle Rhagonycha fulva
• Dark-winged Fungus Gnat Sciara hemerobioides

After a few hours of hard work and good company, the impromptu decision was made to continue the bonhomie by re-gathering at the home of some of our fellow gang members’. After stopping to admire a nearby Buddleia bush, teeming with bees and butterflies, once inside the gate, a lovely time was had by all: conversation, trampolining, beach ball games, drawing, and plate upon plate of delicious food. At various intervals throughout the remainder of the afternoon/early evening, we were presented with onion bhajis, sandwiches, a Victoria Sponge, rock buns and a huge lentil curry, all happily made there and then - what more could we ask for?!

Rather annoyingly, the combination of physical exertion, chat and joyfulness soon took its toll, and I was forced to be a party-pooper and go home early, whereupon as you know already, I gobbled down my parting gift of lentil curry and that was me for the day. After eventually dragging my tired and aching body off the settee and into bed, I went back to sleep only to experience a night full of the usual action-packed adventures that make up my dreams. None of the Bard’s ‘To sleep: perchance to dream’ for me, rather, ‘To sleep, if only not to dream’… Ah, such is the life of a Narcoleptic!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Of cabbages and kings...

Not too much to report for today. I had a relatively ‘awake’ day, which is always a bonus - unless you count my reluctance to shift myself from the settee in order to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors! Mind you, I kept myself busy with lots of admin work, so I wasn’t being a complete couch potato. However, I did make it out of the front door and into my garden towards the end of the afternoon, whereupon I clambered onto the roof to investigate my vegetable plot, had a natter with one of the neighbours, and had a decidedly one-sided conversation with my tomato plants.

The remaining cabbages continue to provide a feast for the local caterpillars and slugs, the former being mainly Small White butterfly (Pieris rapae) larvae, plus today, an as yet unidentified singleton. Fortunately, the adults seem to be ignoring the Curly Kale collection as a suitable egg-laying spot, with one exception, as come dinner preparation time, a cluster of small yellow eggs was discovered nestled under one leaf. Believed to be those of either the Large White (Pieris brassicae) or Small White butterfly, these are now residing in a container within our cottage, being lovingly tended by the Small Person.

Back down at ground level, the Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) is continuing to flourish. My feet are very firmly in the pro-Ragwort camp - for some useful Ragwort information, see: - as it is such a valuable food source for not only the Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) caterpillar (which feeds exclusively on the plant), but also for a whole host of wonderful buzzing insects, and I welcome the plant’s annual return to our garden with open arms! The back garden sunflower is happily proving very attractive to all manner of ‘mini-beasts’, as are those around the front of the house. Today’s visitors included the usual black ants (Lasius niger), an oh-so-shiny metallic green fly (species unknown - I’m ashamed to say that my dipteran identification skills are akin to those of wannabe ornithologists when first presented with a warbler, or other ‘lbj’…), and a cheeky-looking froghopper (Philaenus spumarius), now freed from its protective ‘cuckoo spit’ protection. And, whilst inspecting my pea pods, a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) settled on the wall to bask momentarily in the early evening sun.

Meanwhile, just in time for dinner, my OH arrived home, bright-eyed and enthusiastic after a day spent ‘botanising’. As well as a passionate regaling of a most enjoyable day, he came armed with surprise gifts from his botany mentor - a beautiful home-grown bouquet of fresh herbs for me, a handful of huge, organic peas for the Small Person (with specific instructions that only she should do the shelling), and a pale green gourd for all the family to share. The peas soon made their way to the vegetable steamer, contributing to a much-appreciated (and eagerly-devoured) feast of home-grown goodies!

Tomorrow, all being well, I hope to spend some time working on a piece of land that myself and friends are converting into a wildlife garden, but that project deserves a post all of its own, so that’s me for today.

Best wishes to all.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Welcome Post

Hello and welcome to my little blog.

Firstly, I would like to bring your attention to the title of the blog, taking particular note of the ‘al’ in the middle of the last word… For those of you expecting to read all about my time fast asleep in the buff, then I’m ever so sorry to disappoint!

Many of you who know me know that, at heart, I’m basically a nerdy bug person, at my happiest when I wandering around, peering into the undergrowth, rummaging through soil or sneaking a peek under logs and stones. OK, it’s not only bugs that tickle my fancy but all things wild and wonderful really, be it birds, badgers, bees or botany. And many of you who know me know also that I have Narcolepsy.  So rather than separate the two dominating aspects of my life, I thought I’d add a twist to the usual health or nature blog and attempt to combine the two. OK, so it might not work but if I don’t try, then I’ll never know!

Rather than attempt to provide a useful introduction to all things narcoleptic, for those of you interested, here’s the link to the Wikipedia entry, which, in my opinion, is pretty darn good:

So, here’s a bit about me, and how my blog has come about. I grew up in North Wiltshire on the edge of small market town. Our house was in quiet cul-de-sac bordered by fields, farmland and perhaps most notably, an overgrown public footpath leading to ‘the den’ and ‘the brook’. The former was a thicket of trees criss-crossed by a series of small tunnels, where the local children spent many a happy day playing, chatting and putting the world to rights, as only children can! The latter was an idyllic site, the main point of focus for me being an old wooden bridge, on which I would often lie, peering for what seemed like hours on end into the bubbling water below. Actively encouraged by my lovely Mum to take an interest in natural history, I sent my childhood rearing garden snails, keeping Garden Tiger moth caterpillars as pets, adopting colonies of 7-spot ladybirds and keeping nature diaries. Needless to say, these days, as a rule, I do not advocate removing creatures from their natural habitat. However, watching a furry caterpillar go through the stages of eating, skin-shedding, pupa-building and finally emerging as a pristine moth before flying off to life as an adult, takes a lot of beating when you’re a small child.

As a child, I also learned to play the clarinet, and after the premature death of my Mum when I was 13, my desire to be a naturalist got put onto the backburner, being somehow usurped by my then ambition of becoming a professional composer-come-music historian. So, off I went to Bath, where I lived the life of a very pretentious Music student (but happily made some wonderful friends in the process) and achieved a BA in Music. Rather lacking in focus, and not to mention feeling decidedly disillusioned, after finishing my degree, I pottered around in Bath for a bit before spending a year working for the YHA, first in a lovely hostel on the edge of Exmoor, then for a few weeks half way up Mt. Snowdon, then for a few months in Cornwall.

It was during my time in the YHA that my love of nature was rekindled in a big way, and I was slapped around the face by the realisation of what I really wanted to do with my life. I wanted to get as close as I could to the natural world, especially that on my doorstep, and I wanted to be able to share my knowledge, experiences and most importantly, my passion with those around me. Being on Exmoor was fabulous. Each night before going to bed, I locked the doors, then walked around the building making note of all the moths and other wonderful creepy crawlies that had settled under various light sources, revelling in the happy memories of my childhood passion that such activity rekindled. Before going to bed, I would put out scraps of food for the local badger family, then a couple of hours later, I would attempt to drag myself out of bed again in order to see them enjoying the feast!

One of my most lingering memories of my time on Exmoor is of at dusk, walking up to the combe behind the hostel, and lying on the ground listening to and watching for the sudden spectacle of the soaring nightjars that came to stay during the summer months. A real privilege.

Oh, and how could I forget the ants? A favourite afternoon’s walk of mine was from the hostel to the nearby village of Dunster via Grabbist Hill, where on a sunny day, the Red Wood Ants would be out and about, going about their business in their own inimitable way. Ensuring a safe distance between my face and the ants’ ability to squirt formic acid (at force) from their rear ends, I would sit in quiet rapture for as long as time would allow. To this day, ants still rock my boat in a major way. Unfortunately, red wood ants aren’t that common in my neck of the woods, although I have been promised a trip to a known local colony, a mere 30 miles ‘up the road’!

So, where am I now?

Well, after a quick sojourn in the Big Smoke, spent working in the finance office of a national charity and being a proper London Lass, I’m now well and truly settled at the far end of Cornwall, about 10 miles from Land’s End, where I live with the loveliest family in the world - well I like to think so!

A year ago I completed a second degree, this time a BSc in Conservation Biology & Ecology at University of Exeter (Cornwall Campus, Tremough), two years of which were made up of a foundation degree in Animal Science (Bird Biology) at Cornwall College (Rosewarne/Newquay). I was much more in my element this time around, and am now hoping to soon return to Tremough, this time to embark on a PhD. If all goes according to plan, then my plaintive cry of ‘But I want to be an entomologist’, when ten years ago I was offered the opportunity to study to become a bona fide accountant, will have been heard!

This past year, my Other Half has been back in full-time study - Conservation & Countryside Management for him - having completed a degree in Biology many moons ago. He’s been having a whale of a time, and has certainly kept me on my toes with his new-found obsession with botany! And of course, the other thing that has been keeping me on my toes is our gorgeous Small Person, who I’m very proud to say, is also rapidly developing a healthy interest in the wildlife around us.

Now, you may well be thinking, where does the Narcolepsy fit into all of this? Although I didn’t realise it in the early days, it’s been a pretty big player in my life since the early 90’s, more so these days, although age and experience do combine to encourage a greater acceptance of my situation. It’s tough though, and obviously affects my ability to lead a ‘normal’ life. But I refuse to let it take control, and as such, try to work with it, rather than letting it dictate what I can and can’t do. Of course, this is what I like to think I do. In reality, it pisses me off like nobody’s business, and there are days where I’m as miserable and despairing as can be. Prior to diagnosis, I’m sad to say that having Narcolepsy lost me friends. Now I make a point of talking to people about the condition, helping them to understand my needs, behaviour and perceived eccentricity and also educating more and more people about a generally misunderstood and misrepresented disease. This definitely helps matters!

I hope to keep you entertained and informed with my tales of life as a Narcoleptic Naturalist, here in Deepest Cornwall (and anywhere else I happen to find myself), and will be back as soon as I can…  Oh, and as soon as I suss out a new means of taking photos, pretty pictures will adorn my posts!

Cheers for now

Sally, aka the Narcoleptic Naturalist
OK, so there's nothing here...  can't delete it though, as I'll lose Lin's lovely comment!