Saturday, 4 December 2010

Football For All

The other day I watched a film called Invictus, a lovely movie depicting how Nelson Mandela, in his quest to build a new nation, recognises the ability of sport (in this case, rugby) to touch every heart, regardless of circumstance or ability.
As an England fan I watched the build up for the announcement of the 2018 FIFA World Cup with anticipation but it seemed far removed from those ideals of sport. Instead it seemed much more about the marketing of a huge money-making machine that is now international football, all decided in an opaquely secret manner by only 22 men as several countries vie for the honour of holding the finals.
It seemed of no use to a planet where 925 million people still do not have enough to eat, let alone a chance to play a sport. International football should not about turning the very gifted few into millionaires, it should be about teaching values of fair play, promoting healthy exercise as fun and providing cheap, easily accessible sporting entertainment to a global audience. It should be a league that represents every country and every person on this planet in the ideal that football is for all.
Of course, as an England fan, I was disappointed we did not win the bid. I was also horrified at how much had been spent on it. When we have a global recession with poverty steadily rising worldwide, this is how the we spend our money?
It occurred to me that international football has a monopoly. With no competition, it can demand what it likes, brand new stadiums, shiny logos, marketing tie-ins, pretty much whatever it wants. And so we have seen, pre-recession the growth and growth of a multi-million pound industry with no competition to hold it in check. What we need is not more world-class stadiums and expensive tickets and t-shirts, but another world league, a little healthy competition in international football.
So, to soothe my disappointment in state of the beautiful game, I thought about what that league would be:

The Football For All Global League (FFA)

This would consist of three equal global divisions:
Men's FFA
Women's FFA
Under 16's FFA (or youngsta's)

Then, every three years, with men's, women's and youngsta's teams in an international competition, everyone from every country can have a dream. Every country can compete as well, all they need to do is put together a team. Because, as everyone knows, all you need to play football is a ball, jumpers for goalposts and a lion in your heart.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Watching the Autumn Garden

(click on photos for larger image)

Autumn arrives with a blanket of dew and flurry of activity from birds and squirrels as the boundary between nearby woodland and the garden blur. Misty mornings leave the cobwebs bejewelled, illuminated like garden chandeliers as the sun slowly rises over the trees. The spiders and their cobwebs now replace the industrious activity of the summer bees in the lavender.

Autumn is when a lot of the larger woodland birds are more visible in the garden; jays, magpies, wood pigeons, collared doves, green and great spotted woodpeckers. In the last high blue skies of the year, house martins and swallows swoop before following the earlier swifts south for winter.

One of the funniest seasonal spectacles to watch is the pantomime performed by the jays and squirrels. As the jay briskly stashes his horde of chestnuts in flowerpots and box hedges, the squirrel scampers up afterwards, digging them up and stealing them. No matter how often you tell the jay 'He's behind you!', he still falls for it every time.

(spot the woodpecker)

If you're quick, you'll notice a flick and a dart, a hop and a bob as the wren marks out his territory while the robin takes up guarding the bird feeders, although the long-tailed tits are now long gone.
The winds turn northerly and the leaves start to turn, a few more weeks and then Autumn's shawl of golds, reds and browns will slip to the ground and bare trees and cold winds will start to shape the winter bones of the garden.

RSPB Feed the Birds day is on Saturday 30th October.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Autumn Sun

A glimpse of her golden smile
As she bends low through the trees
Fingers outstretched
To gently caress your face
One final kiss as the river mist rises
And she is gone
Lost below the horizon

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Blog Action Day 2010 ~ Water, adding up the facts & figures

Almost 1 billion people (1 in 8 of us) don't have access to clean, safe drinking water
3.6 million people die each year because they don't have clean water to drink
Nearly 38,000 children under the age of 5 die from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions
African women spend 40 billion hours each year walking to gather water

= water POVERTY

Every day 2 million tonnes of human waste is disposed of into water courses
70% of industrial waste in developing countries is dumped untreated into the water supply
1 quart of motor oil can pollute up to 2 million gallons of water
50% of the world's wetlands have been lost in the last 100 years
Each year, 3 times as much rubbish is dumped into the oceans as the weight of fish caught


73% of water used in homes is either flushed down the toilet or washed down the shower drain
400 gallons of water are needed to grow the cotton for 1 t-shirt
24,000 litres of water is needed to produce one hamburger
17 million barrels of oil are needed to produce all the plastic water bottles used in the US each year, 86% of them are never recycled.

= water WASTE

If you don't like the way water is adding up you can do something about it.
See the links below for charities helping to provide clean water, ways to reduce water consumption at home and how to recycle water bottles and plastics.

Water charities
WaterAid UK

Ways to help reduce your water footprint in the UK
Environment Agency
waste online - plastics
Virtual Water

All facts and figures kindly provided by Blog Action Day at

Saturday, 2 October 2010

2011 ripplestone garden UK calendar available now...

Support independent publishing: Buy this calendar on Lulu.
Each month features my favourite photos from the last five years in the garden, click on button above for more information.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

National Poetry Day '10

(National Poetry Day will fall on Thurs 7th October this year.
The theme is 'Home'.
Visit the organiser's website here.)

Planet Home

Rarely call it home
No other place I'd rather be though
Despite the terrible weather
And the endless fighting
(We do all fight a lot)
The feeling that we could all do with a bit more room
I love its noisy, messy, chaos
It's lived-in feel
I belong here and nowhere else
And yet I rarely call it home

If I step outside for a moment
To view it with a dispassionate eye
And try and distil its essence
Into a word
I find I am so gobsmacked by the beauty
Of this small blue-green planet
All words fail me, except one
Not Earth, nor world
But home
Planet Home

Rarely call it home
No other place I'd rather be though

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

This year's butterflies...

Despite the extreme weather, there has been a good range of butterflies in the garden this year including:




Brown Argus (Aricia agestis)

Large Skipper (Ochlodes venatus)



Speckled Wood
(Click on photos for larger scale)

Thursday, 19 August 2010

City Pride

Lions of Bath (Click on photo for full image size)

Stopping off for lunch in the beautiful city of Bath, it was plain to see that something was afoot. This summer, over 100 life-size lion sculptures have been specially commissioned and now, while prowling around the elegant Georgian crescents and terraces, you can bag your own big cat (with camera only!). Each one is sponsored by a business or community and individually decorated. They all form an impressive piece of public art and are great fun to either happen across by chance or to go on a lion safari across the city. At the end of the summer they will be auctioned off for charity and so you have until mid-September to see them in situ. Visit the Lions Of Bath website for more information and a full list of lions.

The Bath Lion, sponsored by Longleat

King of Fudge, sponsored by The San Francisco Fudge Factory

Big Game? sponsored by Walker/Jansseune

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Art in Bristol, Summer 2010

Art from the New World
There is still time to catch the 'Art from the New World' exhibition at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery as it runs till Sunday 22th August.
There are 49 pieces in the exhibition ranging from sculpture, painting, photography and print by the best of the contemporary American art scene. The show is curated by Corey Helford Gallery, LA and the most of the works have been made for the show.
The artists themselves are often self-taught and their work builds on the pop art movement from the end of the last century, appealing to the mainstream market and trying to take art beyond the constrains of elitism within the industry.
Look out for the gorgeous silver/pink graphic immediacy of Buff Monster, who started out as a street artist and illustrator Luke Chueh's moving painting 'Pin Cushion'. Sas Christian's 'Fever' and the gloriously macabre 'Silent Partner' pick up on pop culture and glamour themes that run throughout the show. There is an undercurrent of bleak humour and unease with modern culture, picking up in places on body image, sexuality, fantasy and the decadence of a post-war America that makes this showcase a brilliant, thought-provoking snapshot of the current American art scene.

Near and Far, RWA Artists
Running till the 5th of September at the Royal West of England Academy, Near and Far is an exploration of travel and place by RWA artists. Over sixty artists are showing work.

David Hockney 'Grimm's Fairy Tales'
Also at the RWA is a series of etchings based on six of the Brother Grimm's fairy tales. All produced in 1969 while a student at the RCA, they feature quirky moments chosen from the stories and show off Hockney's sparse, graphic style beautifully in monochrome.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Historic Dockyard Chatham to launch £13m new museum and cultural venue.

This summer sees the launch of the No. 1 Smithery building at The Historic Dockyard in Chatham.
A partnership between the Historic Dockyard Trust, the National Maritime Museum and the Imperial War Museum, this sympathetically restored building now houses a stunning collection of maritime models and art while providing a cultural exhibition space and hands-on educational entertainment for families.

Inside the original shell of No. 1 Smithery, there are a series of climate-controlled storage cubes housing the model collection, the restored Pipe Bending Floor, a static exhibition, National Museums Maritime Treasures and an art gallery for travelling exhibitions, kicking off on July 24th with 'Resonance and Renewal, Stanley Spencer, Shipbuilding on the Clyde'. There is also The Courtyard a large open space for family activities, school programmes and performance art.
The static maritime display of art and models in the heart of the building is a beautiful snapshot of the long heritage of model making and maritime art that this country holds. From an exquisitely worked Napoleonic prisoner of war model ship to a replica of the dockyard built to impress King George III, there has been careful thought to make the exhibition relevant to the Historic Dockyard itself and its rich history.
This is supported fully by an exhibition in The Gallery of Sir Stanley Spencer's series of paintings depicting shipbuilding at Port Glasgow during the second world war. These eight extraordinary, recently restored canvases capture the physically demanding life of a shipyard, illustrating vividly the day-to-day exertion and tight-knit communal life of the shipbuilders. Included with the canvases are Spencer's drawings and a direct comparison of just how revolutionary his art was at the time, placing the viewer directly amongst the action of the scene rather than from a remote vantage point. This opening exhibition will run until December 2010. The No 1 Smithery will open from 24th July 2010 to the public, full details of opening times, cost and all the other fantastic buildings to be found at The Historic Dockyard Chatham are on the website.

Hands on fun for everyone on the Pipe Bending Floor.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Insects in the Garden

This is National Insect Week and so I thought I'd note a few things down about some of the fantastic insects that visit the garden. But first of all I'll start off with a very brief explanation of what insects are.
As a gardener it is easy to fall prey to the idea that insects are pests. From sap-sucking greenfly to tree-munching beetles all those voracious garden mini-beasts can ravage your prize veggies and gorgeous blooms quicker than you can say 'where's my spray gun!'. But, if you can hold off with the pest control and use it only as a last resort, then your garden will be richly rewarded not only with the occasional munched leaf but also with visits from those creatures we don't call pests like birds, bats, frogs and hedgehogs. Because insects are pretty much the first rung up on the food-chain ladder after salads and, to a lot of creatures they are not pests at all, they are lunch.
Generally an insect has six legs, three body parts, antennae and often in adulthood has wings. This means that spiders, woodlice, slugs, snails and worms are not insects. Insects often have complex life-cycles of their own, think of the metamorphosis of butterflies and dragonflies. They can live in highly ordered and complex societies like bees and ants and there are lots of different orders and sub-orders of insects, from beetles and bugs to moths and flies.
But best of all, insects can be beautiful and weird all rolled into one. Like this little lady who has taken up residence on our patio during these past few warm summer nights.

She looks like a cross between a woodlouse and a caterpillar and is called a Glow-Worm but is actually a beetle (Lampyris noctiluca). She's attracting a male by lighting up her abdomen with her strange greenish glow. The male beetles have wings and so just have to look out for her glowing bio-luminescence in the garden as they fly over.

Another strange insect is this creature. It flies like a humming-bird and looks like a big woolly butterfly but is a day-flying moth called the Hummingbird Hawkmoth (Macroglossum stellatarum). It is quite happy humming around the summer garden sucking nectar from the hanging basket flowers and not at all like those strange, powdery, light-flittering night moths that people dislike so much.

And here's another weird day-flying moth. This one a male with antennae that are up to five, yes, five times longer than its body, the Green Longhorn moth. That puts all those large antlers, horns, trunks and tail feathers in the shade. Up to five times longer than its own body and it still flies!

Or how about the Scorpion Fly (Panorpa germanica) which is, unlike its namesake, completely harmless and the Bee-fly (Bombylius minor) which also has no sting, isn't a bee but, as a larvae, lives in the nests of mining bees.

But if those insects are all a little too weird to be beautiful then feast your eyes on the butterflies (Lepidoptera), from Common Blues to Peacocks, these gorgeous jewel-winged beasts are always a delight to spot among nectar-rich flowers.

Or, if you like your insects a little shinier, faster and more streetwise how about the dragonflies (Odonata). Zooming in low over the garden, hunting smaller insects on a hot summer's evening these surely are the hot-rods of the insect world?

Fascinating and fantastic, insects are also valuable in the garden. They pollinate flowers, clear up dead animals and rotting vegetation, prey on slugs and snails and provide food for mammals and amphibians. Weird and wonderful, and best of all, we can find these creatures by just stepping out into the garden.

Photos from Ripplestone Garden
More about the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Watching the Spring Garden

Watching the bird feeders this morning, a family of great tits arrived with much cheeping and rustling of leaves through the trees. The fledglings were being shown how to search through the leafy boughs for insects before visiting the fat ball feeder under the strict supervision of their parents. They were closely followed by a fleeting visitor to the garden, a female great spotted woodpecker enticed out of the local wood by the fat balls, presumably with a brood somewhere to feed. These quick snapshots of their lives are such a pleasure to watch and this year has seen not only the most extraordinary weather but also its fair share of wildlife surprises in the garden.

Like the wrens. Watching from the kitchen window one morning I could see a small commotion occurring on the lawn. I rushed out to find, not some distressed squirrel as I thought but two wrens, locked in mortal combat, rolling across the grass. One had his adversary's foot in its beak and the other had its beak full of wing, kicking and scratching as, like some mad acrobatic team, they tumbled and rolled right across my feet, oblivious to me being there. They fought their way across the garden and rolled through to the next and out of sight.
Then there was the collared dove chick whose nest was destroyed by a storm. We all spent a anxious day watching with the parents as they slowly coaxed it back up from the ground to the fence, then the pergola, then finally back into the safety of the trees.

A couple of perfect twilights watching bats catch insects under a near-full moon. Silently chasing in from the woods and flying low through the garden, little more than ragged shadows torn from the night sky.
What about this year's squirrels, or squirrel, I should say. Lil' Scrumpy, the most scratchy, twitchy, skinny little thing and hilariously adept at scrumpying the bird food. She's destroyed at least two feeders this season and yet, just yesterday, she was back again, with two youngsters in tow. One like a chipmunk, 'Chip' and the other a bigger, fatter version, 'Buttie'. Chip and Buttie will join other squirrels fondly remembered over the years, like Scampi and Chips, surely the fattest squirrels ever who used to gorge on whole fat balls stolen from the bird feeders!
A late-night encounter with a dog fox, slinking through the garden after a clandestine date. (The fox, not me!) A pair of lovely greenfinches always feeding together and a sprinkling of long-tailed tits. A robin, building her nest directly in line with the kitchen window and then the male feeding her a few feet away from the window every day.

Early morning encounters with jays as they decided to build their nest in a neighbour's garden rather than the woods, allowing me to watch them retrieve sticks each day.

And this year, two weeks early, the arrival of the swifts and not the the one or two like last year but up to a dozen delightful swooping, sweeping, soaring boomerangs high above the trees.

As the birds and larger mammals retreat back into the woodlands and abundant summer approaches, my thoughts are turning to the next garden visitors. The bees, moths and butterflies and the garden inhabitants already waiting in the flowerbeds, the little bush crickets dodging the spiders, too young to sing yet.

Soon the dragonflies will be hunting over the hedges, zooming in low under the patio umbrella on lazy evenings and the air will be ripe with whirring and chirruping from all manner of insects. I can't wait to watch it all happen in the summer garden.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Photos from the garden this year....continued...


virginia stock and oak

A bed of wallflowers, love-in-a-mist and sweet william


ornamental cherry blossom

Photos from the garden this year....

I haven't put up many posts here this year due to the joys of trying to sell our house! But, it would be nice to reflect back over what has been the most extreme winter/spring for quite a while with some photos of stuff that has survived and indeed flowered so far this year. If you want to keep up to date with the garden, I regularly update on flickr and am on twitter as well (see twitter feed >> ).