The Golden Apple

King Peleus and the goddess Thetis were getting married, and everybody was invited. Everybody that says except Eris, the goddess of discord. In true storybook-villain fashion, she had a hissy fit and got her revenge by throwing a golden apple amongst the guests announcing that it was a gift for the most beautiful amongst them.

Of course all the goddesses started squabbling about who should have it, and the wedding celebrations were quickly forgotten. The “competition” was soon whittled down to three finalists: Hera (wife of Zeus and queen of the gods), Athena (goddess of wisdom), and Aphrodite (goddess of love).

Unable to decide amongst themselves they agreed to ask Paris, a Trojan prince, to be the judge. Desperate to win, each of the three goddesses offer gifts to Paris to tempt him to choose her. Hera said she would make him the king of the whole of Europe; Athena offered to make in the most skilful warrior the world had ever seen; and Aphrodite promised him the hand of her sister Helen – the most beautiful woman in the world – in marriage.

Not stopping to consider that by naming one goddess the winner he would be making enemies for life of the other two, Paris immediately proclaimed Aphrodite the most beautiful goddess, and he claimed Helen as his own prize.

Unfortunately Helen was already married to Menelaus, King of Sparta, who vowed to get his wife back, and thus the Trojan War was begun.

Batty about Bats

Bats often have a bad reputation, with people fearing that they will get bitten or have them fly into their hair – neither of which will happen.

These much maligned creatures are absolutely fascinating. The old English word for a bat – flittermouse, and the German word Fledermaus – suggest that bats are mice with wings and yet they are actually more closely related to humans than they are to mice.

We humans could learn a lot from this cousin of ours. Unlike many animals, some bats have been known to be altruistic. If one of their colony has not eaten well on a feeding excursion, others will feed it by regurgitating a little of their own food into its mouth, even though they have nothing to gain from doing this.

Bats account for a quarter of all mammals in the UK and 20% of mammals worldwide. They are the only mammals which aretruly able to fly – flying squirrels only glide. They are split into two types: megabats, which eat fruit and microbats, which eat insects. There are 18 different species in the UK, all of which are micro bats.

Despite the saying “as blind as a bat”, bats are not blind – they just have limited vision. They mostly navigate by echolocation – emitting sounds and judging the position of things by the way the sound bounces back to them. Imagine bouncing a ball against a wall and catching it. The further from the wall you stand, the longer it takes for the ball to bounce back to you. This system is so sophisticated that bats can detect insects in flight, and catch them to eat. And if it can detect something as small as an insect, there is no way it’s not going to notice you, so it won’t ever get close enough to tangle itself in your hair.

Each species of bat emits their sounds at slightly different frequencies, and bat detectors can be used to pick this up and convert them into a lower frequency sounds that the human ear can hear. By taking the frequency and flight pattern into consideration it is possible to work out what sort of bat you can see.

Why not take a walk along a river, or around a lake after the sun has gone down, and take a few moments to appreciate these not-too-distant relatives of ours?

Thirty (one) days wild

I started 30 days wild a day early.

I was filling in the garden watch survey for Springwatch and one of the questions asked how much of your garden is paved over. I thought about it and decided the answer was rather more than needed to be…so I decided to give our patio area back to nature.

Luckily Ian is used to my impulsive decisions by now so he was happy to go along.

Phase one has been digging up half the area (which included digging up a whole pile of concrete that we didn’t know was under there), replacing the hole where the concrete used to be with a mix of soil and compost, and scattering grass seed to turn it into a lawn area.

When the grass has established itself, phase 2 will be to move the picnic table across to the grassy side, and then to take up the other half of the slabs and to turn that into a wildflower area.

Hopefully the birds will enjoy having this extra area of grass to look for food in and other wildlife will find a welcoming environment below the grass to thrive in.

Patio area with some slabs lifted. Lumps of concrete showing through at the front.
Starting to take the slabs up….
Patio area with all slabs taken up on the rightt hand side. No soil and big lumps of concrete.
All the slabs are up so now to tackle the concrete. Aaaagh – it goes down a long way!
Patio area with table and a pile of slabs on the left and grass-seeded area on the right.
Area filled with a soil/compost mix, levelled off and scattered with grass seed.
Patio area with picnic table on slabs on the left hand side and grass-seeded area on the right.
Paving slabs gone (thank you nice couple who took them off our hands!) and Phase One is complete.

Of Valkyries and Slaves

As you probably all know by now, I love learning new things. I love reading, I love adult education classes and I love online courses. What I especially enjoy is the fact that sometimes on these courses or in these books, links are made for me that I should have made myself but just somehow never did. A couple of such moments happened during a course about Vikings that I had downloaded from the Great Courses.

I know quite a bit about Greek and Roman mythology. Somewhat less about Egyptian mythology and embarrassingly little about Norse mythology. However one thing I do know is that the myths all “explain” natural phenomena in some way – for a civilisation that didn’t understand the orbit of the earth around the sun, a sun god makes perfect sense, for example. So when I learnt on this course that the Valkyries of Norse mythology were meant as a way of explain the northern lights, I thought, “Oh yes, of course!” I should have realised that, and yet it had never occurred to me before that the reason there is no equivalent to the Valkyries in the other mythologies I’ve learnt about is that the they are too far south to have needed to explain the aurora borealis,

In the same course I learnt about the “slav” in words such as Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and slavic. I had noticed in passing that the words all contained “slav” which sounds very much like the English word “slave” and yet I hadn’t made the next link. In fact it seems the Vikings weren’t averse to trading in slaves, and the countries we now describe as “Slavic” are the ones that they captured their slaves from.

I’m sure there are many more lightbulb moments to be had as I progress through the course, and I’m looking forward to coming across them.

Echo and Narcissus

Echo was a chatterbox. She was a beautiful nymph, lively, and generally good-spirited, but she could talk and talk.

Zeus, always one with an eye for the ladies, enjoyed spending time with the nymphs. Hera, his wife, didn’t enjoy him spending so much time with them. She felt he should be spending more time with her and doing little jobs around Olympus.

“You’ve got to help me!” he groaned to Echo one day. “Hera is driving me mad – on at me to fix a leaky tap and redecorate the kitchen. I’m a god – and the king of the gods at that. I shouldn’t be expected to do the decorating!”

From then on, whenever Hera passed by, Echo kept her talking, giving Zeus chance to slip away. “Hera! I love what you’ve done with your hair… What divine earrings! Where did you get them from?… You simply must give me the recipe for your nectar cookies – the other nymphs and I were all talking about how delicious they were were…”

Hera, enjoying the attention and flattery, would stop to chat twirling her hair and whispering about her secret ingredients. Eventually, however, she realised what Echo was up to, and cursed her. She took away a Echo’s gift of endless chatter, and condemned her to a life where she would only ever be able to repeat the last word she had heard.

No longer so much fun to be around, the other nymphs didn’t spend so much time with her and she took to wandering alone through the woods.
One day she saw a handsome young man sitting by a pool, and she fell instantly in love with him…

Narcissus knew he was a handsome young man because everybody told him so. People stopped and stared as he walked past, and all the girls secretly hoped that he would notice them. He never did. No mere girl was good enough for him – not such a handsome man as he was. Only a goddess could ever make him a suitable wife.

One warm summer’s day, he sat at the side of the pool to rest and to enjoy the feeling of the sun on his face. As he glanced around, he saw the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Surely this must be the goddess he was destined to be with.

Echo stepped out of the woods and walked slowly towards Narcissus. Once upon a time she could have captivated him with her wonderful stories; now she could only hope he would be equally captivated by her face. She gazed at him longingly.

Narcissus felt her presence behind him and turned. “Who are you?” he demanded, irritated at being dragged away from the beautiful face in the pool behind him.

“You,” replied Echo, smiling hopefully.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” he snarled.

“Ridiculous!” repeated Echo, smiling rather less hopefully. This wasn’t going well .

“Oh go away and leave me alone!”

“Alone!” cried the heartbroken Echo, heading back to the cover of trees to hide her tears.

Peace at last. Narcissus turned back to the face he had fallen in love with. “Will you be with me forever?” he asked.

Although he saw the lips moving he heard no reply from the beautiful face.  “Can’t you speak?” he asked, and he reached out to touch it. The water rippled and stirred, and the face disappeared. “Oh don’t go!” begged Narcissus. “I promise not to try to touch you again.”

As the water settled, the face returned, and Narcissus settled down to gaze at it. Unwilling to leave without his true love, Narcissus stayed by the pool, never eating, never sleeping, until he took his last breath and expired.

Soon there was nothing left of him, but on the land where he had lain, beautiful white and yellow flowers sprung up, and these flowers still bear the name of Narcissus as a reminder of that vain young man who fell in love with himself.

As for Echo? She has never been seen since that day, but she can still be heard, repeating the last words of passers-by. You may have heard her yourself… yourself… yourself…