Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last Post (for this year)

I’ve had a wonderfully musical year this year. First there was the searching and yearning for a choir to join.

Then there was finding it, but not being able to join, but going to listen to colleagues’ bands.

Then there was meeting a fellow music lover with similar tastes (i.e. We both like singing!)- She knows lots of stuff, and I know very little, but neither of us ever seems to get bored with waffling on and comparing notes (Ha!) on our favourite things, so it works out pretty well. And we're going to do the Cantigas this spring.

Then there was joining the Coro Entredós, and having a perfectly lovely time, despite my limited Spanish - which is improving, no question about it. I did three of the four winter concerts, which were very enjoyable, and also gave more scope to get to know people individually on journeys to and from venues, and as we all relaxed after each concert.

Then, as I went bouncing about, happy because I was in a choir, and our Cantiga buddy did the same, for the self-same reason, we began to discover the other singers and musicians among colleagues and students, and discoverwhat rocks their boats. So we don't always talk shop in the staffroom. It had to be possible......

And then there was including Spanish carols – villancicos -in our carols-and-mulled-wine-and-mince-pies Christmas sing-song and inviting neighbours and students. Between flu, and flights, not everyone made it, but we had a lot of fun singing favourite carols, and trying to get our mouths around the unfamiliar foreign ones: The Twelve Days of Christmas? Hacía Belén va una burra, rin, rin?

For me, researching villancicos has added a whole new dimension to Christmas here, as I’ve almost-learnt Spanish carols, and read Christmas stories and Latin-American carols, from my gran libro de Navidad. (Yes of course it’s a children’s book!) I canvassed some of my students – adults and children – for the most popular carols, then Googled lyrics and sat with my dictionary to find out what they actually meant. I sang along to compilation CDs to try and get up to speed. And I mean speed! They do like tongue-twister choruses. (Habibi has not left home. Heroic.)

Spanish villancicos aren’t just not-in-English – they have a distinct aesthetic, a much more human – less awe-filled – focus, and a definite preference for waltz time alternating with lively 6/8 (6/12? 17/42?!) rather than good old English 4/4. They also have an entertainingly flexible approach to content and form: if there’s a particularly catchy chorus, or verse, or musical sequence, it pops up all over the place. The songs are fixed, and everyone knows them as well as I know Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, but several are more musical patchwork than whole cloth. This is a good chorus to know:

Pastores, venid,
Pastores, llegad,
que el Rey de los Cielos
ha nacido ya.

And this might come in handy too:

Venid, venid, pastorcillos,
venid, venid a adorar
al Rey de los Cielos
que ha nacido ya.

It’s good: once you’ve learnt a few villancicos, the chances are that you’ll be able to join in with gusto on at least some of any new one you come across! For the record, my favourites so far are Los peces en el río; Campana sobre campana; Fum, fum, fum; and Hacía Belén va una burra, rin, rin – which I hope to be able to sing the chorus of by Christmas 2010….

The music goes on. We joined a group of Irish, Spanish and English people singing carols for charity in Calle Preciados a couple of Sundays before Christmas – mostly well-known American Christmas songs, rather than carols – with Feliz Navidad and Los Peces en el río for a bit of balance. Fun, in a my-throat-can’t-take-much-more-of-this sort of way!

In the weekend before Christmas, choir members did their own concerts and went to each other’s. We went to hear Coro Gaudeamus do Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols at the Prado two Sundays ago; and we’re going to hear Coro Valdeluz in the final Christmas concert next Sunday. And we’re going to see Sweeney Todd, in Spanish, at the Teatro Español.
We’ve got it on DVD. We’ve watched it in English. Next, I’m going to watch it in Spanish with English subtitles, then Spanish, and then, go see the live show. But I shan’t sing along. Promise.

Out of Africa

My romance with the music of North Africa began some twenty years or so ago, when I first heard a recording by Toumani Diabate, the Malian kora player (and prince, according to the blurb on the cassette I bought). I was enchanted.

I don’t know what led me to his music, though back then I was listening to Ry Cooder, Peter Gabriel, and Paul Simon’s Graceland album which featured Ladysmith Black Mambazo - and hearing about World Music and the WOMAD festival for the first time.

Tie this in with my discovery, in the late 70s, of Ethiopian – Byzantine - religious icons which I loved for their colour and strength of line, in such contrast to the western meek-and-mild iconography I'd grown up with. (Where did I come across them? How? Pre-Internet, I don’t know. Could it have been through……… the public library service and ……..books?!......) Until then, Ethiopia - like most of Africa -was only associated in my mind with famine and destitution. One more country in a tragic continent. As I've since discovered, the Ethiopia of Lalibela and the Byzantine rock churches, and the other ancient kingdoms and cultures of North Africa were as rich and splendid as those of the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas of Central and South America. Some elements have survived - those carved out of rock - and the musical traditions.

And in the textiles and handicrafts. Art at grassroots level. As a summer season waitress at Heathrow Airport in 1980, I used to spend my breaks in Terminal 4 watching the parade of gorgeous traditional robes and headdresses as passengers from long-haul flights from Africa and Asia came through Arrivals. What a contrast to western mass-produced business suits, yoof-black and denim, all practical, sensible, self-effacing, and dull, dull, dull. I had a taste for something more colourful, less urban, and less mass-produced than the clothes - and music - of my own culture.

I grew up with BBC Radio 2 in the background: middle-of-the-road easy listening, Terry Wogan and established pop rather than chart hits. Then there was my parents’ record collection – show tunes, Mozart, Dvorak, Latin American and ballroom. On the whole, I preferred these to the chart hits of my teens.

Then I started going out with a really talented guitarist, who spent hours coaxing all sorts of music out of his acoustic guitar, and also played lead guitar in an R&B band. (This isn't them.)
For me, R&B – of the Muddy Waters & B.B. King variety – is feel-good music, and it’s meant to be live: bars and clubs with tables crowded in the sweaty, noisy, half-gloom, within nudging distance of the band, where you can rock and stomp, and watch their faces and fingers, and listen to that sound – almost as much a part of the music as the band playing it.

And when did I last go to anything like this? Er……..

But I love live music, and, in recordings, I love the kind of music where I can hear instruments and voices. What grabs me is the sense of people making music, of it being live, I suppose. Perhaps the way I listen to music is akin to the way I watch a film, or read a novel: I get right in there.

Until this year, I’d only listened to Toumani Diabate, and the late Ali Farka Touré; but through the magic of Limewire, I’ve traced the musicians and singers that they’ve recorded with, and the musicians and singers that they’ve recorded with, in something closer to Ariadne’s web than Odysseus’s wanderings. Limewire’s also great for following up on people featured in film soundtracks – and here the African connection leads from the Matthew MacConnaughey / Penelope Cruz Sahara, and from Babel to all sorts of people and music. Papa Wemba. Brenda Fassie. Ismaël Lo. Myriam Makeba. Oumou Sangare. Angelique Kidjo. And Habibi bought me the Putumayo Women of Africa album for Christmas. I’m a fan of Putumayo: people like me get to hear people they won’t have heard on the radio - yet; and fabulously talented people get the recognition they deserve, and access to a wider market without having to remodel themselves on Barbie or 50Pence, record in English, or go Lounge. It’s a good thing!

Angelique Kidjo

Summertime (Paris Combo) - Angelique Kidjo

FIFA 2007 - Angque Kidjo - Wele Wele - FIFA07

Lonlon [Ravels Bolero] - Angelique Kidjo

Angelique Kidjo EPK - Angelique Kidjo

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

I don't know when I last felt so thrilled by an election result. Thrilled!

"There will be setbacks and false starts. The government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face, and I will listen to you - especially when we disagree."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Anyone for West Wing?

In the Telegraph online: Alaska's largest newspaper has endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for the White House, saying it would be too risky to put the state's Republican governor Sarah Palin just "one 72-year-old heartbeat from the leadership of the free world."

and in this staff blog, Iain Toomey agrees, more on grounds of character than experience:

In Christine Toomey's profile of Sarah Palin there is a short passage which gets to
the heart of the doubts so many have about the Republican Vice-Presidential
"There is a high body count of people who have dared to disagree
with Sarah Palin, shown a reluctance to do her bidding or, in her eyes, failed
to support her wholeheartedly – among them some who say they too have been
hunted, carved up and cast aside along her path to power. These people warn, as
do even her closest friends and family, that in Palin’s eyes there are no grey
areas, no room for doubt. There is only right or wrong, black or white, “good or
evil”. Her father Chuck’s word for it is “stubborn”. One of her friends calls
her “dogged”. If Palin believes something to be true, it is – no amount of
evidence to the contrary will sway her, and everybody else had better believe it
The profile makes quite extraordinary reading. All four pages of it. If Sarah Palin becomes de facto leader of the 'free world', Austin Powers and Batman movies may become key psychological profile texts for trainee diplomats.

If you've ever wondered what could possibly be worse than Dubbya & Co...............

What was McCain thinking?

'West Wing', anyone?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Hi Dad!

So we were talking to my dad on Skype, and he was asking about the former Nuestra Señora de Telecomunicaciones - now Madrid Ayuntamiento HQ, which he's seen in pics and -I think - on Google Earth; and Habibi said, "Why don't we take the laptop on the terrace, and show your dad the View?" So we did.

Because we have the Technology.

And he was green and pink with envy.

There you are, Dad, in Madrid,with Nuestra Señora de TC behind you!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

¡Qué bueno! (Chuffed of Chueca)

I did my audition for the Coro de Mujeres de Entredós (women's chorus - soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto) - a dauntingly large turn-out for half a dozen places, and I got in! I am thrilled to bits. I've wanted to join this chorus for so long, bought a CD, been to a concert, practised songs from both - and now I'm in!

Entredós is a women's centre with a social, cultural and political agenda.

There's also a percussion workshop on Friday evenings, and I'm hoping I can afford to do that as well. I've seen the percussionist in action, and we're not just talking djembes - though they're deeply satisfying - but all sorts of percussion instruments.

However, there's something else to think about too. One of our friends is an expert on medieval musical notation, and is happily obsessed with the Cantigas de Santa Maria, a 13th Century collection of songs celebrating the Virgin Mary (also catchy Christian propaganda in a country still divided between Catholic and Muslim rulers). The collection was part of a vast canon of work commissioned by Alfonso X, or Alfonso el Sabio (Wise - or, more accurately perhaps - Learned) king of Castile & León, and what makes this so very appealing is that a lot of the cantigas have been set to traditional Galician (i.e. Celtic) folk tunes, rather than the more elegant court music of the time. So there's a bunch of us getting rather excited about the prospect of learning to sing and play some of these. Our little corner of Chueca was rocking to our stomping singalong to 'Quen quer que na Virgen fia' on Sunday afternoon, which my husband says in 27/13 time. Great fun. Sorry neighbours! So my Spanish may not be all that brilliant, but my medieval Galician Portuguese is going to improve no end!

Oh, and at Entredós this evening, we worked on a lullaby written in Catalan, Cançó de Bres per a una Princesa Negra, and Spain's summer hit of 1986, A Quién Le Importa. And in case you're not familiar with the latter, here's a video I smuggled out of rehearsal.......... Altos rule!
Esta noche he ido a las audiciones por el Coro de Mujeres de Entredós ¡y he tenido exito! Me gusta cantar, ¡tengo que cantar! Sin embargo, es siempre mejor a cantar entre otros, y me encantar cantar en armonía de tres o quatro partes. He buscado un coro desde otoño pasado, y he descubierto el Coro de Mujeres de Entredós, el Coro Universitario Complutense, y el Coro de Cámara, pero mi horario ha hecho todo imposible. Me gusta música clásico, pero otros tipos también: swing jazz (Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne), la música folklórica europeana, arabe, y africana (me gusta la música japonesa también, pero sólo a escuchar, ¡no a cantar!) y cuando estaba socio de 'Dubai Harmony Chorus' he cantado pop, y gospel, y 'barbershop' - ¡qué diversión! No he elegido Entredos sólo para su repertorio - lo que es muy variado y divertido -sino también para compartirlo con otras mujeres - españolas y otras - por fin para ser socio de un grupo.

¿Y nuestros primeras canciones? Cançó de Bres per a una Princesa Negra - en catalán, y ¡¿A Quién Le Importa?!

¡Qué alegría!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Soy constipada


If your new Spanish girlfriend ever uses these words to cancel a date, let your sympathy be genuine, not a blind to frantic mental shrieks of 'Too much information!' and a resolution to refile the poor girl under 'E' (for Eeeewwwwwwww!!!!) in your addressbook just as soon as she puts the phone down.

She's got a cold.

On the other hand, if she rings to tell you she's enstreñida....... oh for goodness sake, haven't you got a dictionary?

Anyway, I am. Constipada. So I am sitting here with a mug of escaramujo con hibisco (not another beetle entry, I'm talking rosehip and hibiscus) wellied up a bit with some honey, a squeeze of lemon, a few cloves and a some cinnamon shavings. Drinking it while it's hot! Meanwhile, I've got a litre pottery wine jug set aside for later, with 3 escaramujo con hibisco teabags in it, plus half a lemon, a stick of cinnamon, maybe a dozen cloves, and a thumb-sized piece of ginger sliced up - oh - and a finger of brandy too (I was going to say slug, but so close to plant references, I worried that it might confuse certain sensitive persons). All topped off with boiling water, and left with a saucer on top to............ develop its potential.......

As hot toddies go, all this lacks is a couple of cloves of garlic, but you can't have everything. I'm sure the flat must smell wonderful, but of course, I can't tell.

Soy constipada.


Un amigo (¡inglés!) cuenta que, una vez, su nueva chica española ha llamado a él para cancelar su cita, por motivo que ella estaba constipada. Él ha creido que 'constipado' es igual como la palabra inglés 'constipated', que significa 'estreñido' en español. Hmmmmm.

Pués, soy constipada, y he preparado un remedio calmado: una jarra de té caliente de escaramujo y hibisco, con miel, un medio limon, un palo de canela, unos claves en grano, unas lonchas de jengibre, y un shot de brandy. Para un 'hot toddy' perfecto , solo falta dos dientes de ajo, pero es domingo por la mañana, llueve, y soy constipada.....

No, this isn't me! Gimme time, though.....


Soy profe de inglés, y como profe, se bien que para tener exito en otra lengua, todos los días se necesita hablar, escuchar, leer y escribir. Solo un poco - pero todos los días, o, por los menos, tan frecuentemente que posible. ¡Poco y a menudo! Es un buen consejo, y cuando yo lo de a mis alumnos (¡con grande sonrisa!) ellos suspiran y asenten con la cabeza...... ¡Ai! Qué lío.....

Pero no practico lo que predico ¡como dicemos en inglés! ¿Hay un dicho parecido en español? Estoy viviendo en Madrid trece meses, entonces, hablo español todos los días, pero siempre las mismas frases - para pedir un café, o pagar una cuenta, o dar un saludo al conductor del autobús - y para disculparme mis mal español....

Escucho, pero no entiendo bastante, solo palabras separadas, este verbo y eso sustantivo o adjetivo, no frases enteras: picoteo a las palabras importantes, como una paloma en la plaza, que busca migas de pan entre los huesos de olivas debajo de un mesa.

Leo los reportajes en 'Mi Jardin', y los diseños y instrucciones en 'Labores de Hogar', y los anuncios en '20 Minutos'. Y compro Hola si reconosco las caras en la portada...... a ver... Javier Bardem, 'Pe', los principes de Asturias (y Léonor, y Sophía....) ¡y Angelina Jolie o Matthew McConaughey!

Sin embargo, no escribo nada, nunca, para nada, ¡a nadie! No practico ni la gramatica..... el pasado.... el futuro... aiiiiii..... ni ellos pequeños trucos como aún.... aunque... todavía..... ya........ ¿Claro? Claro....... Ohhhh qué lío....... Y por consiguiente (Tengo mi diccionario a mano.....) no recuerdo jamas las palabras interesantes y utiles los que oígo cada día.

¡Y por consiguiente! continuo a hacer los mismos errores y tonterías cuando estoy hablando; y continuo a hablar español como payaso, agitandome las manos, mientras los hombros suben y descenden como un ascensor, y la boca y los ojos abren y cerran ¡como si yo soy carácter de Warner Bros!

Vale. Voy a escuchar mi mismos consejos. (un suspiro....) Y paso a paso, espero que voy a mejorar. Cuando escribo este blog en inglés, voy a escribirlo también en español. En breve, por supuesto.....

Paso a paso. Poco a poco.

Pasito a pasito. Pocito a pocito.

Pasitito a pasitito. Pocitito a pocitito.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Felt Bird of Happiness

The other night, I wandered onto the website of Tamar Mogendorff. Go see! Inspired by her birdies, I've been playing with felt, and having a wonderful time.
I'm not satisfied with the upturned tail or the pot belly, so of course I'll have to make another one. I enjoyed playing with the position of the black bead and scrap of yellow felt to get not just the position of the eye, but also - unexpectedly - an expression in it (mostly wry resignation this time, which I think is appropriate). And when I was tying off the stitching on the beak, I realised that I could also retract the beak slightly - basic needle sculpture. Obviously these things also mean that I need to make another one!

So all good fun, if a world away from the style and originality of Tamar Mogendorff's work, which ranges from the most elegant or funky soft toys, to art with a needle, conveying something essential about the nature of her subjects.

All wonderful!

Oh, and while I'm on the subject of people with actual talent, Habibi's been drawing, but is dissatisfied with the outcome. Apparently he's out of practice, so these are not much good.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dear George. Yeah, RIGHT!

I once got an email from a Nigerian widow who had learnt that I was a wonderful person and was therefore sure that my compassion and good sense would extend to helping her move her late husband's megaNairas* from his secret cash cache, via my bank account, to somewhere else where they could be Put To Good Use for the Benefit of the Deserving (widows, presumably), thus evading the grasping claws of their corrupt children, whose venality had caused him to stash it in the first place - and with some foresight, since it appeared that the ungrateful little buggers had almost certainly taken out the contract that had resulted in his abrupt departure from earthly woes. (Honestly, kids - who'd 'ave 'em?). I was touched. But not that touched. (*Actually she wrote in dollars, and I'm just being a smartarse - so sue me in any currency you like!)

I hadn't thought about this for a very long time, not until yesterday, when a very good friend forwarded a plea from George Arlington.

I hate it when I'm obliged to scrape off the warm fuzz that camouflages a suspicious nature. But neither do I like being manipulated: send me a piece of emotional and moral blackmail chain letter larded with sanctimonious insults and barely veiled threats, and sod the warm fuzz; out come claws and fangs and who the$*!)^%* is this &%*$îng sleazeball who has set out to exploit people's kindness and compassion for his own *;=%"?!¿!¿! ends? (Key: on earth, unscrupulous, nefarious).

So I did a search on 'George Arlington leukaemia baby' and found this
BellaOnline article at the top of a page that also included this 'Sick and Missing Kids' page, which prefaces a list of known scams with this statement:
Few things tug at the heartstrings quite like stories of a child in need or,
worse, in jeopardy. It is in our nature to protect the young. Chains in this
category come in two basic, but distinct types. Sick child chain letters are
almost always bogus - they frequently promise that you can help fund their
medical care or help them realize a lifelong wish simply by forwarding an e-mail
(which you can't). Missing child chain letters, unfortunately, are very often
real, but quickly fall victim to all the shortcomings of using e-mail to
broadcast information.
Those are my italics at the end, because I received a chain letter containing photos of Madeleine McCann a few months back. It was an effort by one of her uncles to maintain awareness in Europe, because the family believed that while she could not be in Portugal, Madeleine was still in Europe. He's doing his best to help, using whatever's available.

As for 'George Arlington' and his , Fw: Leukaemia (don't delete-it's being tracked)'ll know why [Scanned], when I passed my discovery back up the chain of emails, Wendy came back with this, entitled Leukaemia (please delete-it's being tracked)..cos its crap [Scanned] (ha!). She clearly knows exactly what she's talking about, so here's what she wrote:

I must say at first sight I knew it was a hoax. Having worked in
Oncology for a few years; I am fully aware of the state of minds of people
facing these awful situations, and there is no way anyone would be finding time
or will to enter into this sort of ‘begging’ nonsense. Not only that but
in this country no child would be facing a situation like this thank

I hope everyone has good virus scanners in place because these things are
full of them. What they are about is getting email addresses of everyone
in order to sell it to companies who can then inundate you with junk

So my advice is; unless you know of the person personally, don’t forward to

For that matter when forwarding any emails always delete the previous peoples email addresses. This is considered polite email policy anyway. It is easy you just highlight all the previous senders and press delete.

These people are sick greedy b**tards and should be locked up for the scum they are.

My thoughts exactly. And considering that all I had to do to contact the EIGHTY or so other people in the chain so far - the earliest dated nine days ago -was hit 'reply all', I can see that that might well add up to a hell of a database for someone. Has anyone else heard from George? (Bless!)

Anyway, returning to the 'widow', I remember that the subject came up one afternoon (Remember the Alamo.) and it transpired that several of us had either received a similar letter, or knew someone who had. Later, there were newspaper stories. So I did a second search yesterday, this time on "Nigeria bank account hoax". There are several press reports, but mostly from 2002, so perhaps that one's had its day?

.....just like....... sniff!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

bloggy contentment

Last week, when I was Deeply Fed Up, I went looking for blogs to cheer myself up. Molly Chicken (away with the fairies - it's quieter there.) did it for me. I want to live next door to this woman, not least for our similar take on the important things in life, although I would not lend her my Dyson. If I had one.

This afternoon, having been restored to my normal (and I use the term loosely) insufferably cheerful self, (the power of a good whinge and the good sense of good friends), I surrendered to the pleasures of someone else's garden, on the Costa de la Luz, which is about as far south of here as you can get without falling into the sea. Starting at the beginning, I'm up to December 2006, and everything in the garden is pretty damn gorgeous, including the cat(s) and the mosaic(s). I could go for this.

And *now I'm going for an audition for a women's four-part harmony choir that I've been yearning to join for a year. If I get in I shall be a very happy bunny. If I don't get in, I shall be less happy, but I've got a reserve yearn. What I want to do is sing. With friends. Fingers and toes crossed.

*Harrumph! P.S.Erratum.Addendum.Bumbum.Oops.Buggerrit. How come the last Tuesday in September is in It's-October-now-so-get-yer-ass-back-to-work Week? Faec Fic Foc! (Who says Latin is a dead language?). OK. Next week!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

More bugs - not a post for people who don't like creepy-crawlies

My first job, in the shade on a warm Monday afternoon, was to pick the Cabbage White eggs and caterpillars off the cauliflower seedlings. Having once seen my beautiful nasturtiums (Did you know nasturtiums were brassicas? Neither did I!) devastated by these gourmands, I had no qualms.

All I had to do was deposit them in this plastic container, and shake it from time to time, because otherwise the little blighters would climb up and out!

I don't know what mine host did with them afterwards, probably made a nourishing broth.....

OK. Ants. Definitely common or garden, but look at the size of what they're carrying! They didn't mind me if I didn't mind - or sit on - them. I'm always impressed by the efficiency and determination of ants.
This is not a very good photo, but it's the best I can do: the husk, or skeleton, of a cricket, which I found on my second morning (That would be under the peppers.). I didn't know that crickets have to moult as they grow - I assumed that they emerged fully grown like butterflies. Nope. More info here.

Gorgeous photo of an orthopteran nymph (if you're into this kind of thing) here (Click on the photo to see the rest of this particular gallery.) at the absolutely amazing nature photograghy site of Bob Moul.

But here's a live one. This fella landed on my trainer on Thursday afternoon. There's nothing like a ground assault with hoe to eventually alert insects to the limits of the "If I don't move, I'm safe." approach. Even something as big as this is invisible until you catch movement out of the corner of your eye, and then watch for more movement rather than trying to distinguish the mover - just look at the coloration, or lack of it, against that late summer soil. Of course, when it actually stops for a breather on your toe.......

This is a wasps' nest (near the fruit trees).

You might be able to make out the wasp on the rim, at about 11 o'clock, but I wasn't getting close enough for a clear shot. I've always thought of wasps as just one of those bad-tempered beasties sent to try us, but

"If ground-nesting bees and wasps can be ignored and their tunnels tolerated, do
so since they are valuable in agricultural production and helpful by controlling
pests in nature. If nests are in locations undesirable and stinging is a great
possibility, control is justified."

So says a rather elegant Ohio State University Fact Sheet, and even the pest control companies seem to agree!

Here's the BBC again, with colour pics, but here's a real fan, with an essay in the garden of Paghat the Ratgirl. If you are stuck indoors when you really want to be out; looking at brick and stone when you really want to be looking at tree and blossom; listening to your own interior monologue on what you have to get done before the weekend/end of the month/next audit when you'd really really like to sidestep into a parallel world of aconites, Cedar of Lebanon and lines from Emily Dickinson, you could do worse than spend five minutes in Paghat's Garden.

You may even find an essay on the secret charms of the aphid,

but right now, I'm with the wasp.

And while I'm in insect PR mode, I think we're all familiar with the - commitment issues - of the praying mantis, so I was glad to be a) female, b) 47,000 times bigger, and c) holding a hoe, when this deadly beauty crossed my path on Friday (under the asparagus). It may even have been our own Apteromantis aptera, a mantis endemic to the Iberian Peninsula, but looking at this phenomenal photo on Flickr, I think this was a bit more common or garden.

They're officially a Good Thing because they prey on garden pests, but here's the full Wiki :

"Many gardeners consider mantises to be desirable insects, as they prey upon
many harmful insect species. Organic gardeners who avoid pesticides may
encourage mantises as a form of biological pestcontrol. Tens of thousands of mantis egg cases are sold each year in some garden stores for this purpose.
However, mantises prey on neutral and beneficial insects as well, basically eating anything they can successfully capture and devour. Although their diet primarily consists of small invertebrates, large mantises have been observed eating small vertebrates such as lizards, mice, snakes, and small birds such as hummingbirds."

Ulp. I don't suppose a novice WWOOFer would give them much trouble, either.

These snails weren't on the smallholding, but soaking up the fumes on the verge of the M-305 coming into Aranjuez. Wasting away, evidently.

Corn & Beans

Country cousins, corn and beans do well together. Planted side by side, the beans climb through the corn and up the stakes like a green trellis, and everything ripens in its own good time, tra la!

But there has to be a catch, and here it is.Trailing Bindweed may be a prosaic name, but it succinctly indicates the social habits of the pretty Columbine, all delicate pink and white skirts and charming tendrils, and the instincts of Becky Sharp. Better out than everywhere.....

(Tangent Alert: If you suffered through - and with - Tess of the D'Urbervilles at school, you might find this interesting. Thank you, Thomas B. S. (Bloody Sanctimonious) Hardy)

Meanwhile, back at the smallholding, I give you yer actual corn flower

or backyard triffid.... tribble..... poodle best of show......

and the fruit of its thingies, with interesting background vegetables.
BEANS! I thought bean blossoms were always scarlet. I shall check with the BBC before buying seeds, but it sounds as if Red Rum could give angelic Columbine a run for her ill-gotten gains, and the demure Painted Lady might get past her.

If you leave the pods to dry,
tip them onto a tarp,
and riddle them gently with a stick - as a break from hoeing, weeding, hoeing, weeding and ...
you get seeds for next year.