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…

Z is for Zulu

Zulu – or isiZulu as it is called by native speakers – is one of post-Apartheid South Africa’s 11 official languages. Linguistically, it is a language of the Nguni group, spoken in Southern Africa.  More widely it is part of the Bantu family, which includes numerous languages spoken in sub-Saharan Africa. Within that family, it is the second most widely spoken after Swahili.  There are around 10 million native Zulu speakers, mainly living in or originating from the Zululand region of South Africa, with a further 14 million South Africans speaking Zulu as a second language. Understood by over half of the population, it is the most widely spoken of the country’s official languages.

It is hard to put a date on when the Zulu language first emerged, as it was originally only a spoken language and is so close to those spoken by neighbouring peoples. The group of languages it belongs to has been spoken in Southern Africa for many centuries. However, the Zulu tribe emerged as a defined separate grouping during the 18th Century, becoming established as a major regional military and political power by the early 19th Century, so the assumption is that their dialect became a distinct language at or just before this time. It was Christian missionaries working in Southern Africa who first attempted to document and write down the Zulu language.  For this reason, like other African languages, it is written in the Latin alphabet. The first grammar book was completed in 1850 and the first book ever to be published in Zulu – a bible translation – appeared in 1883.

The most noticeable feature of Zulu, like other Southern African languages, is the existence of click sounds. This is something distinctive to the Southern part of the continent and is very rare in other regions. Zulu has a total of fifteen click sounds – five variations of the three “basic” types of click. Needless to say, these clicks are very difficult for non-native speakers to reproduce and most have to make do with an approximation of the true click effect.  Probably the most famous example of Zulu clicks can be found in Miriam Makeba’s “Click Song” .   Another very complex feature are the word classes (equivalent to genders in other languages), of which Zulu has no fewer than 16!

 Today, Zulu is taught as a first language in the province of KwaZulu Natal, and as a second language throughout South Africa (where students taking English or Afrikaans as a first language must also study an African language). There are numerous Zulu-language TV and radio stations in KwaZulu Natal and in major South African cities, Zulu newspapers and magazines, and many books and films now being released in the language.

Because it is a relatively modern language and was to a great extent suppressed by colonialists and later during the Apartheid era, very few Zulu words are used in standard English.  The only real examples are the names of African animals – for example, impala and mamba were originally Zulu words. The situation is different in South Africa itself, where numerous Zulu words and phrases are very much part of modern South African English.

One place many of us will definitely have heard genuine Zulu is in the famous song “Circle of Life” from the film “The Lion King”. While the character names in the film are mainly derived from Swahili, with other influences from Masai, the opening lines of that iconic song are Zulu:

“Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba Sithi uhm ingonyama
Nants ingonyama bagithi baba Sithi uhhmm ingonyama

Ingonyama Siyo Nqoba
Ingonyama Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala”, which means

“Here comes a lion, father Oh yes it’s a lion
Here comes a lion, father Oh yes it’s a lion, a lion
We’re going to conquer
A lion, a lion and a leopard come to this open place”

Thank you to my wonderful husband, Ian Braisby, for this post. Ian can be found at www.iabtours.com

Is it ever OK to let children fail?

When I was a child, if I ever got frustrated at doing something wrong my dad would tell me not to worry because I’d learned twice as much as if I done it right: I’d learned how not to do it as well as how to do it! He was right. Sometimes doing something wrong first makes the right way to do it far more memorable.

I once watched a Year 6 pupil plot a graph of the temperature during one day where he had put the time up the y axis and the temperature along the x axis. I saw the confusion on his face when the graph line took an unexpected twist, but I said nothing and let him finish.

Afterwards I asked him what he had done wrong. He wasn’t sure, so I asked him instead what he was sure he had done right. We reinforced the fact that he had chosen a sensible scale to draw the graph, that he had remembered to label the axes, that he had given the graph a title, that he had correctly read the information from the table, and that he had correctly transferred this information to the graph.

I then asked him if he had done all these things correctly, what made him so sure that something was wrong. He twisted the page round and said “Because I expected the line to be this shape.” I asked him what he could change to make the graph the shape he expected it to be, and the penny dropped that he needed to put time on the x axis. I then made him redo the whole graph.

I could have stopped him at several points during the session – when he first explained how he was going to draw the graph, when he labelled the axes, when he first realised that the point he had just plotted wasn’t where he expected it to be – and prevented him from going wrong, but is being told you are about to make a mistake as memorable as seeing the result of something you have done wrong and having to work out how to do it right? I don’t think so. If I had stopped him, I think it is possible he would have made the same mistake again in the future.

At no point was he allowed to feel silly for making a mistake – just the opposite, I emphasised everything he had done right. As he was redrawing his graph he said, “Sally-Jayne, I’m never going to make this mistake again!”  And do you know what? I don’t think he ever will.