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Posted on November 30, 2009 in Hounds, The Home Front by Jay23 Comments »

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I was going to show you my little bog plant today, and I took a whole series of close-ups but, while they turned out to be unintentionally amusing, they were rather grainy.

Anyway, while I was sitting on the floor taking those pictures Sid came and snuggled up behind me, and when I’d finished, I turned round and he laid his big fuzzy head in my lap and since I had the camera in my hand, I took some pictures of him, too. They turned out to be surprisingly good!

There I was, taking considerable pains to get some nice macros of the Sarracenia, with my tripod and all, reflecting light down onto it so I didn’t have to use flash to spoil the delicate lighting, and contorting myself into all kinds of knots to get a clean background, and then I turn round and snap this one-handed on the macro setting, with no fancy stuff at all.

Just goes to show, doesn’t it? You don’t have to have any specialist equipment or deep knowledge of photographic techniques to take part in Macro Monday!

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I’m all for charitable ventures. It simply isn’t possible for the various ‘authorities’ to provide all the cash and facilities that are needed in all areas so I support my favourites with donations, and in the case of greyhound rescue, my time and a few saleable items like hand made earrings and notecards.

Today, Sid and I spent the best part of the day standing out in the rain and wind on the coldest day of the year so far, supporting my local greyhound re-homing charity at a Meet and Greet in the Rivergate Centre of our nearest city. It was so cold that Sid wore two coats and still shivered.

Now, the Rivergate Centre is a pleasant little area with a covered arcade, an open shopping square, and an Asda supermarket bordered by a very large car park, which has the laudable policy of charging for parking but giving you cash back on the ticket if you spend a tenner in Asda. But they charge very heavily for allowing charities to make collections on the property – to the tune of £80 per day (which at current exchange rates is about $132 USD). And I was incensed to find that as a volunteer bringing a dog with all the trappings that he needs on a cold day out (bed, water supply, treats, coats, etc), I was expected to pay for the parking and then spend £10 on shopping if I wanted to see my money again. That applied to the organisers as well, by the way. They were the ones who had to pay the £80 to for us to be there, and they too had to pay the parking charges.

Last time I volunteered for this one, I collected my parking tickets (£6 worth) and went into Asda and explained the situation and they said oh, that’s fine, we’ll refund the vouchers since you are officially here with the charity, but next time you need to go to the office and get a permit first. This time, I went round to the office and they said they’d stopped doing the vouchers, so I should just save my tickets and go for a refund afterwards.

So I stood in the biting wind and shivered for four hours, walking Sid from time to time to warm him up and feed the parking machine, or sitting on the ground hugging him, and chatting to people about greyhounds and racing and rescue and no, you can’t have Sid, he’s mine, but you can have that one over there, he needs a home, etc etc., and at the end of my time there, I went into Asda and asked for my refund.

Customer Service Lady: ‘No, sorry, I can’t refund that, you have to spend ten pounds first .. and you can only exchange one ticket voucher. That’s the limit’.

Me: ‘But I’m with the greyhound charity. The lady in the office told me I could get a refund for the parking here!’

Customer Service Lady: ‘Did she? Hang on, I’ll ring through’.

Pause while CSL rings through.

Customer Service Lady: ‘No, I’m sorry, I can’t do a refund. You have to go and spend ten pounds.’

Me: ‘But .. .hang on, we’ve paid £80 for the day just to stand outside, and you’re telling me parking isn’t included?’

Customer Service Lady: ‘Yes. See, it’s not Asda, it’s Rivergate that gets the money. You need to go talk to them.’

She pointed the way to the Rivergate Office and I walked over.

And basically, what they said was this: Yep, you paid us £80 for the day to stand out there collecting for charity, but no, you can’t have a refund, we don’t include parking. He did say (to be fair) that there were a couple of free slots ’round the back’ for now and since they weren’t busy we could have those, but since we’d already paid the parking fee that didn’t help much.

So tell me. Is it unreasonable to think that having paid such a very large amount of money just to be allowed use the spot, parking should be included, since we need to bring so much personal stuff with us – plus the table and saleable items to set up AND handle the dogs too?

The Rivergate Centre thinks so. How about you?

Posted on November 25, 2009 in Hounds, Life, the Universe and Everything by Jay26 Comments »

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The letter ‘S‘ is one of the easier ones on the ABC Wednesday roster, but still I thought for a while about what to post.

I looked through my archived pictures and found several things I could have used. I’ve talked about the Sovereign Quarter Horse stables more than once already, but should I tell you about San Francisco, for instance? Or Solvang? What about Sheffield? Then there was the Springfields Meet and Greet for a local greyhound rescue, one of Sid‘s first outings. Here he is sitting sweetly in his smart collar and showing off his stump to the shoppers.

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Well, OK, I couldn’t resist slipping Sid in there, but I’ve decided to show you somewhere local – Southey Woods.

And look – there I found another type of stump!

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Southey Woods has been a popular dog walking venue for us since we had our first greyhound. It’s about fifteen minutes away by car, but it’s worth it as you can see by the pictures, and last May we took a ride out there because we were feeling sad after the loss of our two dogs and we needed to get out and walk somewhere peaceful.

It’s a lovely place, with a mixture of conifers and broadleaved species, including beech, oak, ash, silver birch and elder. Naturally, it’s home to many shade-loving plants such as bluebells and yellow archangel, and I was amazed at how many there were with names that began with ‘S‘. For instance, here is Greater Stitchwort, otherwise known as Soldier’s Buttons.

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There is a lesser Stitchwort, too, with tiny white cross-shaped flowers and whorls of lanceolete leaves. Here it is growing alongside purple bugle.

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Interestingly, Silene dioica, or Red Campion, is also known by some people as Soldier’s Buttons!

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When you start looking, it’s fascinating how many different names there can be for one plant. Even the common English bluebell has several. Most people know it as Hyacinthoides non-scripta, but it is also known as Scilla non-scripta and Scilla nutans. There is much discussion about what constitutes a true English bluebell, but that link will take you to the Natural HIstory museum, and one must presume they know their taxonomy.

The problem, you see, is that nurseries began importing the Spanish bluebell for garden use, and like all invading species, it is a danger to the existence of our own native bluebell. The Spanish bluebell can be identified by its upright habit and sturdier stem. The English bluebell is much more slender and the flowerhead droops gracefully. See?

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I looked up alternative names for the wild arum (Arum maculatum), or Cuckoo Pint because it has so many different names I thought one might begin with ‘S‘ and I was right. It’s also known as Starch-Root, and was once used as a food supplement by country folk. Wikipedia says: “The root of the Cuckoo Pint, when roasted well, is edible and when ground was once traded under the name of Portland sago“.

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However since other parts of the plant are extremely toxic, I have to wonder how someone made that ‘stonishing discovery!  Interestingly, the spadix (the brownish/purple rod-like flower enclosed in the green spathe) is attractive to mice, and they often chew it right away to a stump.  Ha!  Another stump for you!

Of course, another shade-loving plant you find in all corners of England is the Stinging Nettle, and here it is with Yellow Archangel, which is a close relative.

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And there are benches to sit on in the shade of the silver birches, should you feel tired after stretching your legs.

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When we were done walking,  just outside the gate we found Sheep’s Parsley in the hedgerows bordering this acid yellow field of oilseed rape. This crop has become so common that yellow fields are now a part of a typical springtime English scene.

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See those stormy clouds up there? The drops of rain were just beginning to fall as we got back into the car at the end of our walk.

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Sid might be a greyhound. He might be capable of speeds of around 25 mph (yes, even with a leg missing – those with four can go much faster than that) but he’s quite content to sleep most of the day. He curls himself into his nice big, soft dogbed, and snuggles down into the sheepskin and there he will stay for hours on end.

Now, if it were me that sheepskin would tickle my nose, but Sid doesn’t seem to mind – although it is true that sometimes he’ll let that big head of his drop over the side onto the carpet. I think perhaps he does that when he gets a little warm, and he needs to cool down.

So for Macro Monday today, you have a picture of a great gallumphing, thirty-three kilos of muscle and bone standing around 28 inches* at the shoulder … or at least part of him. It’s not a true macro shot, but it’s a nice close-up, don’t you think?

Oh, and some of you asked to see my first efforts at modelling with epoxy resin clay. It’s a completely new medium for me, and I’m not much good yet, but hopefully I will improve.

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From the left: My very first – rather lumpen – effort. A caricature greyhound head and neck. Then the second attempt, this time of a flat head, maybe suitable for a pendant. Lastly, a combination of the two – a caricature, flat head, hopefully suitable for fixing a loop to and hanging from a chain.   Once again, I’ve forgotten to put something in for scale, but the largest of these is about an inch tall – that would be the one on the left – and the smallest (on the right), is about three quarters of an inch.

* I lied. Well, I guessed, and I was wrong. I just measured him and he’s between 30 and 31 inches at the shoulder!