Tuesday 25 June 2013


I grow quite a lot of roses from cuttings.   Half-ripe cuttings planted out in the Autumn seem to be the most reliable. They take very well in this soil: I used to put them in little lines in the veg patch and then transplant them if they took.  I don't bother with this any more, I just put the cuttings into the ground where I want the plant to be.  Usually they succeed, and it saves the effort and the damage to the plant arising from transplanting.

These blue climbing roses are vigorous and disease-free, and also free of charge thanks to Leo who gave me the cuttings from the plant growing up the side of his house.  There are seven plants here in all, climbing up the back of my shed.  Even though the individual flowers are barely more than an inch in diameter, there are so many of them that the effect is impressive.  I am hoping that over time they will flop over onto the tiled roof as well.

These orange climbers are also from cuttings, again courtesy of Leo.  These ones are not yet big enough to climb, but they are intended to cover the back wall of the lodge.  I like the way that they change in colour from bright orange to nearly white.

And here's some free rose pics.

Saturday 22 June 2013

Out of Nowhere - 2

Some time ago I posted here about my strange memory of being conscious before I was born - in fact, a memory of the very start of my self-awareness.   Now you either believe that what I have detailed might be true, or you have me classified along with those who claim to have been abducted by aliens.  Well fine, each to his own, but it for me, forms the axiomatic basis of some my beliefs regarding consciousness.

I might add that I have (fragmented) memories that extend from this point into early childhood.  I can remember being bored before I was born, and, one time, moving about a lot to try to make something happen, until I ran out of energy.   I remember waking up during the birth process, aware that there was a lot of "fuss" going on, and that I was physically constrained in a way that I had never been before.  I remember my fight for life afterwards, the pain, the flight from pain, the view through death's door and the fear that resulted (no more me), the adrenaline rush that I held on to to stay alive.  Then, what I thought was my final surrender (to sleep, I guess) and the surprise on waking again.

I remember being in a cot, and trying to work out the repeats in the tartan pattern.  I remember my father bouncing me on his knee asking "why don"t you talk?"  (Because I don't have to).  And a short time later (A few days, a week?) surprising my mother with my first words (Bored out of my skull, in some kind of baby bouncer suspended in the kitchen doorway while she cooked, "I want some food" or something like that, in response to which she stopped what she was doing and came and asked "What did you say?")  I remember the concentration it took to form words and how if I didn't bother and made baby noises instead, I was being "silly".

I can remember not being able to crawl, but rolling myself to my objective, noting that since I was tapered I had to aim a short way off to compensate for the curve.  I can remember the frustration of my arms giving out as I crawled.  The way the bricks I stacked didn't conform to the image in my mind's eye, but were all higgledy-piggledy and how the last one I put on caused the pile to spray sideways because I lacked fine motor control; and telling myself to be patient.

Perhaps it is these experiences that have led me to be fascinated by the idea of consciousness, the idea of "I", and also the ideas that other people have on the subject.  One of the researchers in this area, and also an author of some books on the subject is Douglas Hofstadter, who comes across to me as a man of fierce intelligence and boundless curiosity.  His book "Gödel, Escher, Bach, an Eternal Golden Braid" discusses the idea of emergent behaviour in self-referencing systems, in a playful, interesting and accessible style.  I am currently reading his book "I Am A Strange Loop" that discusses consciousness as an emergent behaviour more explicitly.  I would thoroughly recommend these two books to anyone with an enquiring mind and (at least) an 'A' level scientific background.

There are some conclusions that I can draw from my experiences that are at odds with a small subset of what he says.  My very first awareness of "I" arose from my being aware that I had been conscious before, several times, fleetingly, and that I could remember having been so.  My "I" self was the memory-based connection through time of these moments or periods of consciousness.  These didn't need any external stimulus in order to happen, as far as I am aware, and emerged (I think) solely in response to the functioning of my brain.  "I" needed three things: awareness, memory and the idea of time. (The idea of memory is of course intimately linked with that of time).  I deduce therefore that consciousness is an emergent behaviour of a functioning brain imbued with some axiomatic programming, and is therefore coded genetically in DNA.  Perhaps it occurs when the loops within the brain are finally "tight" or "strong" enough, a bit like when a laser suddenly fires when the light energy produced/light energy lost moves from 0.999 to 1.001

So, in his book "I Am A Strange Loop", under the sub-heading "Baby Feedback Loops and Baby "I"s" much of what Mr Hofstadter states is, at least in my experience-based view, wrong, including "the building-up of a self-symbol is still far in the future for a baby".  No it's not, it's right there, from day 1 - in fact, from before Day 1.

Sunday 16 June 2013

Red in tooth and claw

Here is an Adder, or Viper if you prefer, eating one of the lizards that seem to thrive around here.

Now as a child living in the countryside, I got a bit of advice about snakes in general and Adders in particular.  The first thing to know is that Adders are poisonous and you don't want them to bite you.  The books say that their strikes are not usually fatal to healthy adults, but I figure that this means that they sometimes are, and so at the very best, they probably hurt quite a lot.  Best avoided.

They are apparently recognised by their particular zig-zag pattern on the back, and a V- or A- shaped mark on the head. Well I have to say that I'm pretty sure the snake in the picture is an Adder, but I wouldn't say that the pattern on its back is a zig-zag.  Ok, yes, there's a V on its head.   Or a > or  <  or ^ depending on which way you look.

The second bit of advice I got was to always pick it up by holding it just behind the head, so it can't turn round and bite you.  This advice presupposes that you are going to pick it up in the first place, which is probably not a good idea (see above).  Nobody ever told me that if I was going to use this technique I should approach the head from behind, which seems to me to be too important a thing to have left out.

The other advice was to use a forked stick to hold it down, again, placing the fork of the stick just behind the Adder's head.   But then, I wonder, what do you do with the snake?  You're not supposed to kill them because they're rare and protected, so presumably you are going to move it somewhere, which probably involves picking it up, and the forked stick is now where you want to put your fingers.   Plus, since the stick is forcing the snake against the ground, preventing it from moving and possibly strangling it, the snake, by now, is annoyed.

It did strike me (maybe that's not the phrase to use) that if I wanted to pick up an Adder, the best time to do it might be when it's got its gums round a lizard: the poison sacks might be less full than normal, and it might have less mouth movement available to bite.  It is an opportunity that I shall forever regret passing over.

In the end, Adders are shy, and will slither away if left alone.  Good plan.

Friday 14 June 2013

97dB rubbish bin

It seems to be common practice these days for instructions for devices made of plastic to be printed in relief on their surface.  This grey-on-grey text lacks somewhat in contrast, and so the instructions for changing the ink cartidge on the printer, for example, can ony be read under specific combinations of artificial and natural light, that can occur only at certain times of the year.

And so it is that I have only just noticed the interesting fact that my wheelie bin, that I have been using for a year or so, carries a sound SPL level warning.  Apparently it emits 97dB.  Doubtless ear protection is required for using it safely.  It is comforting to know that the government is looking after us so well.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Garden things

OK, I like to garden.  My excuse is that the garden is part of the customer experience at the gîte, but the bottom line is that I do it because I like to.   So here's some pictures, and some thoughts that go with them.

This paeony has pretty, single fowers, and the colour goes well with the poppy Medallion behind it.   I have found an Iris that goes well with them both and I will move it to be next to them, later this year.

If I was a proper artist, I could do an impressionistic painting of this clump of blue and white iris, but since I'm not, a photo will have to do

According to all the seed packets, when you buy Pot Marigolds, you shoudn't let them set seed, because the flowers you get from subsequent generations are less good.  So what's wrong with this splash of colour, fourth generation at least?

This Iris, being purple, clashes a bit with its blue neighbours.  But it is a good match to the Wisteria, that I would have described as blue.  I will have to find a way to bring the two together, though the Wisteria is in gravel, against a wall.

I like perennial poppies too, and I tried to grow some from seed.  The first packet I bought, of special pink poppies, from Thompson & Morgan yielded no plants.  The second packet yielded this one.  A pretty coral pink, and worth the effort, perhaps, but this year I harvested my own poppy seed and, by contrast, got lots of seedlings.

Finally, the cats have got it sussed.  Enjoy the garden, with no effort.

Sunday 2 June 2013

Iris cultivation

Flag Iris are pretty plants, available in all sorts of colours and heights to suit most gardens and colour schemes.  But they are harder to grow than you might think.  They like a limey soil and full sun, and if you have this, then they will flourish.   But then they tend to become victims of their own success, because they spread rapidly.   If placed together in the same bed, the more vigorous ones tend to overwhelm the slower-growing ones, and you will, over time, lose the weaker varieties.  So they have to be managed.

A successful clump of flag iris will need to be split up every three years or so, as soon as the flowers have all finished blooming.  Dig up the clump, break off the growing ends of the corms (keeping 3 or 4 inches of corm and discarding the rest) to make new individual plants.  Replant a few, and give the surplus to friends.

Iris tend to exhaust the soil, so when you replant, it's best to find a new spot.  If you can't, then re-work the soil with bonemeal (if you can get it), lime (if you need it) or crushed sea shells, and general fertiliser.

There is an Iris nursery in Bubry in Brittany and we went to take a look.  It is run by a Mr Chapelle and his partner.  They told us they started with 12 varieties, and now they have an enormous field of them for sale.  They cross-breed to create new colours, and they showed us some of their results.  We chatted about the requirements for successful Iris growing and breeding, and we were shown how to pollinate the flowers.

It was inevitable that we ordered more plants, and Mr Chapelle was good enough to sell us a couple of his new varieties that are not officially available yet.  The one shown below I liked for its flash of blue amongst the brown.  I shall have to find it a special spot in the garden.

I suspect that I am guilty of having lost a few varieties that we have bought over the years, due to mismanagement.  I have photos of all the ones that we have bought, and there are over 30 different ones.  I'm not sure I can remember seeing some of them.  It's clear I will have to embark on a careful labelling and replanting programme.

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