Monday, June 25, 2018

If There's a Bustle in Your Hedgerow

Agriculture in Great Britain is long established and the farmers seem to not have fallen for all the gimmicks that the American farmers have fallen for over the years.  American farmers did away with hedgerows early in the last century to maximize their yields figuring that hedgerows were a waste of land.  This is what caused the Dust Bowl.  Without breaks in the fields all it took was some dry soil and wind storms to suck all the product soil off of their lands.

You don't see many fences in England and if you do see one it's more of a temporary thing, or something that bridges a gap between stone walls and hedgerows  Hedgerows and walls have safely keep things in or out for a very long time. They are the resting spots for the land and a place where beneficial animals and pollinating insects live.

The rule of thumb when judging how old a hedgerow is by counting the number of plant species in the row.  For each species you can safely add a hundred years to the row.  So if you find only two plants species, the row is two-hundred years old; six species would make it 600 years old, which isn't uncommon.

By the way, if there is a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed.  It just means that there are some critters making noise in there.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Icy Impressions

After World War II Americans came home with certain impressions of the Brits, and the Brits came away with certain impressions of the Yanks.  I suppose some of the stereo types remain and are reinforced by a lot of visitors.  I've heard the England is the land of big ears and bad teeth.  On the other hand they say that we are vulgar, noisy and have tomb stone teeth.  Seemingly, orthodontia is one of our big faults.  It is said that they only serve warm beer over there. This may be true in  a pub that is intended only for locals, but most venues cater to travelers whom are unaccustomed to the delicacies of the UK palate.

OK, I am American and I enjoy my hot beverages hot and my cold beverages cold.  There is no room in my short life for things that are tepid.  With this said, I like ice. My refrigerator has an ice dispenser of which we have already worn out one activation switch and I'll put money on this process being repeated again in the next few months.

Water is served in its tepid state.  The water there is very soft and tepid soft water will not quench ones thirst.  You just need to drink more and more of it and still end up thirst and disappointed.  I learned long ago that ice seems to harden water up a bit.  I don't know why, it just does.

In the UK you need to ask for ice, and then they may drop a cube or two into your glass.  Totally insufficient and rocking the chair towards passive aggressive behavior..  It was time to become the Ugly American.  Any time I asked for water with a meal I also ordered a separate pint glass of ice.  Sure I got some weird looks, but the end result always left me happy and quenched.

I admit I did unearth my inner Ugly American, but to my credit I didn't wear a baseball hat,khaki pants, jogging outfits, running shoes, anything with advertising, logos or images, or even a hoodie so I stayed under the radar only until I asked for ice with my water.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Hot Beverages in Europe

Amsterdam and Belgium had great coffee.  Though it was nearly always served in a small cup, the pot or decanter was always for refills.  They boldly provided cream for the coffee, not milk and they also provided sugar cubes with both raw and refined sugar.

My first experience with English coffee was bland at best and it got worse and finally I stopped drinking coffee after we got a to-go coffee where they poured the coffee grounds into the water and where you put your lips to drink was a screen that screened out the the grounds. It was awful coffee. Yes, there are Starbucks all over the UK, but I won't drink that formulaic crap.

Being one who never drinks free coffee and especially free hotel coffee no matter where I stay because it is always a disappointment. I have learned that it is pretty hard to screw up tea, except for the bags of tea that they put in your take-out Chinese food.  All I can think is that they are keeping the good stuff for themselves.

I started getting a pot of tea with every breakfast.  I even got a cuppa from a teashop that offered individual cups of any of the hundreds of verities they had in the shop.  I got Lapsang Souchung and had a joyful time drinking tea while waiting on the steps of York Minster for the doors to open so we could experience Evensong.

My life with tea was going along nicely until someone asked if I had tried the tea that was offered in the room of the hotel we were staying in.  This person was from England and he said it was the strongest tea he had ever had.  I tried it and it was a whole other level of tea.  It was the equivalent of comparing 2% beer with Everclear.  Since then I've procured 100 bags of this nectar. It is Taylor's Yorkshire Tea.  Holy crap, is it ever good.

I will leave you here as I sip, but I will share three of their commercials in the links below.

Every Thing Stops forTea
Blessed are the Tea Makers
Tea Song

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Full English

One of the first mistakes that first-time visitors in the UK make is ordering the "Full English" for breakfast.  I saw people doing it all over. Eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beens, tomato, toast and black pudding. Oddly I never saw anyone eat their black pudding.

So allow me to give my impression item by item.  First the bacon which is a different cut than the bacon strips.Americans are used to.  Bacon in the UK is about the size of the palm of one's hand and it isn't cooked until it is crisp.  A little crispness would be welcome because as it is it's almost undercooked.

Baked beans have never struck me as a breakfast food.  Actually they have never struck me as a food that should accompany anything.

I'm not a fan of hot tomatoes except of course for tomato sauce.

The toast was always good.  Though I knew that most of the time it was a commercial bread, it was always a better quality than American commercial bread. A side note is that many places made their own croissants.  Those were always great.

You can't ever go wrong with eggs, however if have scrambled eggs you quickly find that they have found a way to take them in a terribly wrong direction.  They add something creamy to their scrambled eggs and the creamy texture ruins them.

The biggest disappointment were the sausages.  This was all due to the texture.  It wasn't meaty, but more like a bready texture.  The texture just wasn't right and the taste was bland in comparison to American, German or Polish sausages.

Finally the black pudding.  Perhaps because it is common knowledge that it is made from pigs blood, it is also called blood pudding.  The ingredients are: 4 cups fresh pig's blood, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, 1 1/2 cups steel-cut pinhead) oatmeal, 2 cups finely diced pork fat (or beef suet), finely chopped,1 large yellow onion, finely chopped,1 cup milk,1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper,1 teaspoon ground allspice.

My only regret of my trip was that I never sampled the black pudding.  It actually may have been the highlight of breakfast in the UK.  Perhaps next time.

The most non-conflicted breakfasts I had were of juice, fruit a slice of bacon and maybe a fried egg.  Croissants were always a bonus to breakfasts.

Belgian breakfasts were much better.  You got a selection of cheeses, Bree and solid slices with prosciutto and salami.  Good coffee in small cups, freshly baked croissants,breads and cakes with home-made jams. 

Breakfast is an odd meal that usually centers around 10 to 15 items; all of which you can get tired of quickly.  However there is one item I could have for breakfast every morning and never tire of it.  Cold pizza.

Thursday, June 21, 2018


There is a certain romantic idea of having a home with a thatched roof.  The idea of it alone should be enough to persuade you to look no further into that sort of nonsense.  However there are a number of homes with thatched roofs in the UK.  Not a large number of them, but certainly a number.

I saw my first thatched roof from the train from London to Bath.  I was interested at that point.  Having roofed and re-roofed my house and garage over the years and it seemed to me how odd it is to use composition shingles.  Sure they are easy to install, but they are a petroleum produce with a very limited life span.  I've since converted my home to a metal roof that will out-last me.

Most roofs in the UK are either tile or slate.  I saw absolutely no comp roofing.  The only hint of a comp roof that I saw was some rolled roofing on a shed, but ever all the other sheds I saw had tile or slate roofs.

The thatched roofs are special.  Local thatchers have fields dedicated to growing the thatch they will need for the year.  It is a special grass meant only for thatching and not for hay.

Each thatcher has a signature be-it a special ridge line pattern like in the image above, or they may put thatch animals on the ridge line such as foxes, chickens. ducks or owls.  some of those images are below as well as a photo of the thatching process.

Before the romantic idea of a thatched roof grabs too much of your heart, here are the issues.  After a roof is thatched one needs to run netting or chicken wire over the entire surface to prevent animals from nesting in it and also to prevent animals from picking away at it and taking the materials to their nests that are elsewhere.

Another issue is that thatched roofs only last about 20 years and once you have a thatched roof your home is automatically placed on a historic register and you cant replace your roof with any other material.  If that isn't enough trouble, insurance companies normally will not insure a house with a thatched roof, they are real fire hazards.

The images below will give you a good idea of what there is to see.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Solar Belgium

My first thoughts of Belgium were of how cool a country it is.  While taking a train to Brussels from Amsterdam one can't help but notice all the solar and wind generation happening there.  Giant wind turbines were everywhere.  It was impossible to not see at least one in every glance out the window. And they are large; seaming much larger that those I've seen in the US.

More impressive was that nearly every building has solar panels .I would say that only one out of a hundred homes did not have at least a few panels on the roof.

I get questions regarding the efficiency of the solar panels I have at my house.  I have only 14 panels, but I'm generating over 25KW per day.  Even on a rainy day I'm generating at least 10KW.  I can go out before the sun rises and I've already generated 500 to 800 watts.

Brussels is at a latitude of 50 as we in Astoria are 46.  It seems they have no problem pumping out the power.  Panels aren't just on newly constructed buildings, they are on all buildings.  Even the structures that Van gogh painted now are decked with solar panels.

Another cool thing is that everywhere you go in Belgium you will find an opportunity to recycle things.  There are recycle bins everywhere.  There are kiosks for recycling on city streets.  It is amazing.

So here I was happy, delighted, overjoyed, to be in a country that was like-minded to the life style I am accustomed to, but then our visit ended and we got on a high-speed train from Brussels that was to pass through France, then through the Chunnel to end at St. Pancras Station in London.  I watched the farms pass by at nearly 200 miles per hour.  Still nearly every structure has solar panels with giant wind turbines across the distant farm land.  Suddenly we entered France and there was nothing in the way of power generation.  All the houses and buildings within sight just had plane normal roofs.  No solar panels, no wind mills.  It was a new reality that saddened me.

I will write more on the solar and wind energy of England in the near future.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Dry Stack Stone Walls

While growing up in New Jersey I spent two years of my early life working on a farm.  One of the chores before planting was cultivating the fields which unearthed a lot of rocks which needed to be dealt with before we could plant.  My job in this endeavor was to ride the stone boat that was being dragged by the tractor.  As we came upon a rock I would hop off and pick up the stone or attempt to roll the stone onto the boat.  After the boat was full we'd go to the edge of the field and place the stones on the ever expanding stone wall that had been continually added to every spring for decades.

This said, I had an immediate appreciation for the stone walls in England and Wales.  The stones there were flatter and they acted as fences to keep animals, mostly sheep, in or out of the fields.  Some of the fences had been there for a thousand years or so.  Houses and barns were also built stone.  Very few structures were built of wood.  Even new construction is mostly comprised of stone.  Roofs were tiled or slate.  These homes were made to last for centuries and the will last.

I quickly realized that much of Europe is still living in the stone age, which is a good thing.  We are always looking to build with natural materials.  Stone homes keep the homes cool on warm days and keep the homes warm on cold days. Bricks and blocks are used as well. Stones are weather resistant and fire proof.  The tile or slate roofs last for generations.  Added to that there is a personality and a sense of permanence with stone structures.

Though stones in the ground are somewhat of an inconvenience to those who want to farm and garden.  Really large stones are a major undertaking.  I have been fortunate with all the digging I have done over the last 30 years in Oregon I have only come upon one stone and it was a rather small one, the size of a fist.  However I now have stone envy.  I'd love to build some dry stack stone walls at my place.  The possibilities are endless.

Here are two images of a 2,278 foot stone wall built by Andrew Goldsworthy in 1997-1998 at the Storm King Art Center that we visited three years ago in New Windsor, New York.


Monday, June 18, 2018


OK, I'm blogging again.  Why?  Because the laziness had to end sometime.  By laziness I mean that all of my recent creativity has only been my finding cleaver photos on Tumblr and posting them to Facebook; often without even a caption.  When I've been really creative I post things to Instagram, mostly without explanation or any photographic skill.

Historically this blog has consisted of observations and stories of things I've experienced that I personally find fascinating.  Well, I've recently three weeks in Europe.  This was my first venture across the pond. Things are so different there that my observations should be written down, not only for the dwindling readership here, but for the sake of my own memory.  I don't want to forget this stuff.

This is the first observation I'd like to share.  While traveling through Amsterdam, Belgium, quickly through France, and then two weeks in England and Wales I noticed that it is rare to see the flag of what ever country we were in.  You might see them on a government building like a post office, but flags are generally not seen anywhere.

I asked someone about it and they told me that flag waving is looked down upon as vulgar nationalism.  Basically he was inferring that the nationalism that is displayed in the United States is crude and vulgar.  All that pre-game National Anthem, standing with hand on the heart, flag waving BS that Americans do is distasteful.  We made our flag into a a crude spectacle, akin to big penis competition.  I have to agree.  When I drive by one of those over-sized flags, or when I drive by a house with a flag displayed I think to myself, "Hey Asshole, put your dick away!  This isn't a competition."