I’m stretching the meaning to include what we still seem to call autumn, on this side of the pond, though fall is an appropriate term on a day like today when the wind has finally picked up, loosening an accumulation of drying leaves from many of the mature trees around the property. After the third warmest September for Wales (second warmest for the whole of the UK), since Met Office records began, October has largely continued in the same vein, so such leaf fall is long overdue.
Perhaps the first two months of autumn will now set a combined record leading into the much heralded global COP 26 talks beginning in November in Glasgow? And what a conference, having just checked out the website, there seems to be a wealth of presentations which it’ll be possible to tune into, should one wish, though I’d have recruited someone else to make the site more appealing visually, I think.
But falls can be more personal and painful, than nature’s annual temperate prelude to winter, with its significance for recycling, pausing, and regeneration. I’ll now introduce you to the the wonderful Hendon 3 leg adjustable tripod ladder, which we acquired a couple of months ago. We’d been toying with getting one of these for years, as trees have grown around the garden, and everything we’ve read records how much safer they are than stepladders, but a recent discussion about them on the excellent Tikorangi gardens blog finally moved me to action.
The strangest thing about it, is I just love looking at it! It’s the most elegant and functional bit of design, very lightweight for moving, and infinitely more stable and quicker and easier to set up, than the chocking we used to have to complete with our ancient wooden stepladder. Having been a huge time saver during the external decoration phase this year, I started using it around the garden, for helping to thread the many lengthy climbing rose shoots which are gradually finding their way ever higher into neighbouring shrubs and trees, in advance of the first autumnal gales.For some considerable time, we mulled over what height to go for, and in the end the 10 foot one we plumped for was probably a good compromise – perfect for all the decorating needs, but perhaps a little awkward for manoeuvring in between vegetation, owing to the width of the splayed legs. However this width, together with the (optional, but vital on a sloping site) adjustable legs which work really easily, lend the ladder its amazing stability.
Thus lulled into a false sense of security, and making a classic mistake at the end of a long day, of pointing the ladder downhill, rather than the more awkward uphill location, saw me at maximum reach, at maximum height, straining to poke a bendy trailing rose stem, over and beyond a beech branch, using our light weight, wooden, hay fork. I’d just completed this when, having presumably shifted my centre of gravity outside the stable range, the ladder, very gracefully, began to topple sideways. I can’t recall ever falling from such a height before, and I think courtesy of my bike fall last year, had enough time to think about how I was going to land to avoid major injury. The Geranium, and Hosta foliage possibly helped, but I couldn’t believe my good fortune, to stand up, with no obvious problems. The ladder now spanned the barbed wire fence, unharmed too, and the big ball of Flexitie had been catapulted way beyond into the field. I still haven’t found the scissors I was using.
Rarely a dreamer, I’m guessing the trauma and inevitable hormone rush was responsible, but readers might be interested that the subject of the nightmare, involved some sort of visit to a hospital like institution, for some sort of routine (?) urine sample, which ended up in me becoming trapped in the bowels of a labyrynthine structure, with ever more narrow staircases, crammed cheek by jowl with ever more people, who were only able to speak to me in a mumbled way I couldn’t understand, and thus couldn’t manage to tell me how I could escape. My primitive mobile phone had a flat battery, so I couldn’t even liaise with Fiona to coordinate a pick up. I was trapped!
(Anyone wanting to avoid more grief is advised to skip the next long section in italics. I include it, as I sometimes do, as a contemporary recording of events, thoughts, and links whilst I can manage to recall them with a degree of clarity).
Though only, probably, pending the future development and deployment of intra-nasal vaccines, derived through avian embryonic and avian virus vector technology, rather than the aborted human foetus cell lines, and primate/chimpanzee virus vector developed by Vaccitech. (Oxford University/Astrazeneca -OUAZ). With great interest, I watched Professor Sarah Gilbert’s recent on line lecture, giving her own quick and very technical whizz through how she and her team at Vaccitech came to develop the vaccine, including the use of a “simian” virus vector, (a word carefully chosen, I’m guessing, in place of the perhaps more widely recognised primate or chimpanzee). You can view the lecture here. And it’s also interesting to record that the Q & A consisted exclusively of questions which had to be submitted the day before, rather than as a response to the actual lecture. If you do watch, you might note as I did, that the company she set up to patent her particular vaccine technology around 2016 doesn’t get any mention at all, in the multiple list of logos and acknowledgements towards the end of her thorough presentation. This is curious airbrushing (surely it’s not an inadvertent slip,) since the BBC’s now 3 times broadcast, and updated “Profile” of her as speedy vaccine production pioneer, also omits the significant role of this private, until recently, company.
I should also mention the BBC radio 4 series Vaxxers by Professor Sarah Gilbert and Dr. Catherine Green, which was eagerly anticipated, at least by me, having heard a previous trail, was then mysteriously removed both from the schedule and BBC sounds.
(Rhetorically) Why might this be? I can conceive that in today’s febrile world, such decisions have all be taken for rational personal security, but still feel it’s a noteworthy situation, for anyone interested in trying to bring themselves up to speed on the forces and processes involved in the pandemic response.. Whether or not money is a key factor in anyone establishing a company is difficult to disentangle from the mix of other motivations, but I guess that pride in one’s achievements is usually something most/all entrepreneurs would acknowledge.
I was reminded of this pride element recently in the ongoing big barn clear out here. After many trips to the tip, we came across the broken acrylic sign we had made fairly early on, to hang in the window of the veterinary clinic we’d established, as fresh faced new parents, in a derelict corner shop in Bristol. The cheery logo that one of my artistic nurses had designed was chosen to portray the friendly, unfussy vibe of the practice. Later on we found the box file with documents kept relating to the early years of the practice’s development, including the carefully typed (no computers back then) business plan which with nothing or no-one to guide us, we’d knocked up to persuade a nameless Lloyds bank manager to lend us some money.
My initial appointment with the same manager for an exploratory concept meeting saw me leaving fuming. Fiona instantly knew things hadn’t gone well when I returned to the car. My ears were red! The manager’s response to the absurdity of someone with 18 months experience and no capital even contemplating setting up his own business was clear.
Fortunately after I’d calmed down, this proved to be a bit of a red rag. The plan was knocked up by us both with simplistic costings and income projections, and he was so impressed by it, he wondered who we’d got to write it up. The very cheek!
Still, my point in all of this, was that with a lot of help in the way of parental guarantors, and yes, eventually some completely safely covered, modest borrowings from the bank, we managed to find a dodgy, literally canine excrement smeared corner shop property, in a distant unfamiliar city; get planning permission; find a builder through the much more friendly local Lloyds manager there; cope with the nightmare of discovering dry rot in critical supporting beams, mid way through the property conversion; relocate with our then one year old son; and complete all the internal and external property decorating ourselves, in time for opening the doors for the first time on April 1st. I remember the shock on the face of Keith, our wonderful, and very necessary, cadaver collection service provider, arriving to meet the new vet and asking the painter up the scaffolding where he might find him, only to discover that I was, indeed, he.
This all seems a lifetime ago, yet I still wear my tired and stained CRVC sweat shirts, a constant reminder of this exciting and interesting phase of our lives. We couldn’t have done what we’ve done since without all the years of toil then, and thanks to all the help from the numerous staff members who contributed to a happy team (most of the time!) This personal journey of the trials and tribulations of setting up our own business does give a certain insight, yet still leaves me scratching my head about Vaccitech’s absence from the UK vaccine narrative – I’ve still to find anyone who seems to have heard of it.
Yet we all (?) know about the BioNTech side of the Pfizer vaccine, and the German/Turkish doctor couple who’ve become very wealthy on the back of their own vaccine, as this article in The Guardian details. Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci: German ‘dream team’ behind vaccine
Much information, and Vaccitech’s current dollar share price, should you wish to invest, is freely available here, having floated on the American NASDAQ stock exchange in April this year. Although those outside the UK might reflect that the apparent lapse in protective immunity within 5 months or so, its reduced efficacy against more recent variants and the perceived need for booster vaccines to be given to the over fifties, has seen both the UK government, and Sarah Gilbert, advocating that Brits’ should be given another brand of vaccine for this additional booster jab. Sarah Gilbert herself has proposed that any extra OUAZ doses should be used elsewhere in the world. It should also be noted that currently the incidence of fatal and non fatal blood clots post vaccination only seems to afflict patients given the Vaccitech/OUAZ vaccine, according to the latest UK government data. (as of August 11th 2021, 411 such cases after first dose, 43 after second dose, with 73 fatalities).
For completeness, here are some links to other vaccines, for any other concerned waverers who care to think about what’s being advocated to be put into your body. Firstly, some really promising work on a British/American collaborative intra-nasal vaccine from the University of Lancaster. (Immunogenicity and protective efficacy of an intranasal live-attenuated vaccine against SARS-CoV-2). I’ve written to the team to express an interest in human trials of this vaccine, should the opportunity ever arise in the UK, but unsurprisingly have yet to receive any reply. For an excellent review of the possible benefits and challenges of intrnasal vaccines against Covid, read “Intranasal vaccines aim to stop COVID-19 where it starts”
And just today, the news that the Valneva vaccine, which is a conventional, old style, inactivated, whole virus vaccine, manufactured in Glasgow, is going for UK medical approval, after producing excellent protection in trials where it was matched against the OUAZ vaccine, with apparently reduced side effect risks. It’s also grown in a “vero” cell culture (kidney epithelial cells isolated from an African Green monkey, way back in 1962). Sadly it’s unlikely this will ever be an option for me, in spite of this response from Adam Finn, Professor of Paediatrics, University of Bristol, Trial Chief Investigator, on the trial results:
“The low levels of reactogenicity and high functional antibody responses alongside broad T-cell responses seen with this adjuvanted inactivated whole virus vaccine are both impressive and extremely encouraging. This is a much more traditional approach to vaccine manufacture than the vaccines so far deployed in the UK, Europe and North America and these results suggest this vaccine candidate is on track to play an important role in overcoming the pandemic.”
The UK unexpectedly cancelled a longstanding contract for 100million doses of this vaccine just a few weeks ago, under mysterious circumstances. Our health minister Sajiv Javid saying the vaccine was unlikely to get regulatory approval. This latest update on the clinical trials, and Valneva’s submissions to the MRHA for approval, appear to show that he either jumped the gun, or was very ill informed.
With current evidence showing the problems with the length of vaccine induced immunity, and the evident critical inability of current vaccines to prevent actual virus transmission, I do hope that these other routes to disease protection might eventually reach the stage of clinical roll out. Even better if this was in the UK!
And even more importantly, that health promotion/protection might move up the political agenda and popular narrative, as considered, for example, in these reviews of significant factors impacting on disease outcomes: “Diet quality and risk and severity of COVID-19: a prospective cohort study” and here, “Obesity and COVID-19: what makes obese host so vulnerable?”
Or even more clearly highlighted in the fascinating insight into Professor Tim Spector’s work on diet, gut biomes, weight loss, health and the observed benefits in terms of reduced Covid incidence and severity. All developed over many years, and most recently through his ZOE app, with its approach to using AI for number crunching of the data collected from many volunteers and sets of twins, identical and non-identical, over decades. Click here to listen to a discussion of all this on this week’s latest “The Life Scientific”. His ground breaking take home message being that the key is to have a diet including around 30 different plant based food items, per week. He reckons it doesn’t matter too much about specific targets for carbohydrates, fats, veganism or vegetarianism, this figure of plant based dietary diversity ensures a healthier and more diverse gut biome, with the knock on benefits to overall metabolic health and nutrition. Also reflect on the openness of discussion in this programme about the creation of a private company to drive forward his work, and the enthusiasm surrounding the latest private fundraising to continue the firm’s development.
Unrealistic to consume such variety in a normal diet? Not really with a bit of thought, and if you include herbs and spices. One of the big benefits for me personally from the pandemic, is having switched myself to a diet actually very close to Spector’s suggestion, although arriving at it from a completely different entry point. I feel much better as a result.
And guess what? It takes us back to the sort of diverse, omnivorous, un-processed diet that we have evolved to process over millions of years. A long list of foods there on your plate or bowl, rather than a long list of small print on the side of a label. At some point Spector and his co-founders may even float the company on the Nasdaq, but my guess is that they’re in no rush to cash in their chips, so to speak, just now. This story is only just beginning.
The annual big leaf clear up began in earnest, the day before more rain was due. A major area we always tackle is the green lane, which isn’t really part of the garden, but yields an enormous crop of leaves, collected with our small Li-ion lawnmower, and swept or blown off the large expanse of low shed roofing that houses all manner of woodstores, and other mess, beyond the perimeter of the garden. All was going well, with her insisting she should clear the roof, whilst I start on the leaf chomping. The stepladder was positioned to gain roof access, though we both forgot to risk assess the beehive just to the left of the roof above. OOps. Then, just as approached the point where she was working above me on the roof, there was a shrieked shout that she was being stung, she scrambled for the roof edge, grabbed the side of the stepladder, hurled herself onto it, the ladder fell sideways, and she landed in a tangled heap, once more in a curious, unpreventable, slow motion, right in front of me.
Having been stung on the lip, we now have a well worked out protocol. Dash inside. Remove the sting and venom sac asap, apply Medihoney with its great anti-histamine properties, massage in briefly, and apply an ice pack to slow down peripheral blood flow. This all worked well, and it was only a quarter of an hour later she commented that she hoped the lawnmower was OK. I hadn’t even noticed in the drama, that she’d actually landed sideways on this, and in the process had snapped off the cutting height lever. I suspected severe bruising, or even worse, nightmares, in the following 24 hours, but Fiona is made of sturdy stuff, and thankfully although bruising did develop, and she had a fitful sleep due to soreness on one side, she’s fine. Phew, another lucky escape.
It’s been a wonderful few weeks for clouds, particularly around dawn, and many dawns have seen me out early, with no extra layers since the nights have been so mild, standing and watching the evolving scenes. I’m even sure I saw a cloud dragon, breathing smoke, emerge on one such morning, before the colours really melded into a glorious mix quite unlike any I recall.
This also brought to mind my favourite, duet version of Joni Mitchell’s iconic song, “Both Sides Now” by Clannad and Paul Young, which was also one of the first songs selected for the self made TT disc, I mentioned last time.
‘……..It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all…….’
The official video below is rather poor, I think, so if you like the music, start it, and then scroll down.
As a secondary musical interlude this time, I’m including a video from the excellent recently released Chrissie Hynde/James Walbourne selection of Bob Dylan tracks. The story of this lockdown album is interesting, being recorded by Walboune and Hynde independently and remotely, after Walboune had the idea of trawling through some of the less familiar, yet vast Dylan catalogue, to commemorate Dylan’s 80th birthday.
Their independently recorded segments winged their way to Tchad Blake, an American music producer/mixer living in mid Wales, and working from a small studio room in the cottage you’ll see in this video. (If you let the music roll into the next video song, you’ll even see the man himself and his workspace). He gradually worked his magic, piece by piece, to create the finished tracks, whilst simultaneously arranging with his family to craft a set of videos in lockdown to go with each song.
The final album was only released much later, in August 2021, and it’s a delight for me. I’ve never been a Dylan fan, and was frankly only 8 when Dylan recorded his original acoustic version of the song below. I’ve discovered, for the first time, his real skill with lyrics, and the complex and rich melodies on many of the tracks, cleverly explored by Walbourne, and with Hynde’s aging voice much easier on my ear, than the Nobel Laureate’s.
This particular lyrical song’s video (“Love minus zero”) is also very much of its time and place. Look out for the latex gloves, the sanitiser, the social distancing, the porch swooping swallow, and of course the wonderful Welsh scenery, and meadow, filmed somewhere near Llandrindod Wells in mid Wales, last year.
In amongst the current swathes of golden waxcaps, the badger has returned to trash our nurtured hay meadow turf, big time, this year, both in our upper hay meadow, and also in a much smaller patch in our lower wet meadow. The solitary brown stem of our single butterfly orchid, miraculously sits unscathed in the second scene of damage, below.
I’ve written about this very seasonal specific damage a few times in the past, though not noticed such trauma here for at least 3 years. Interestingly, this coincided with me starting to read Charles Foster’s early chapters in “Being a Beast”. A frankly curious project he embarked on, to try to get inside what it was like to live, and experience, life as a number of different “beasts”, rather than to write about such creatures from a human perspective.
I was a little disappointed by how I struggled with his writing.
Perhaps Foster uses his wordsmith barristerial skills more than he really needs to. The badger chapter sees him decamping to a Welsh hillside where a farmer friend excavates a deep trench for him to use as his “sett” in the hillside, into which Foster and his 8 year old son move. After covering the roof with vegetation, they attempt to live, over an unspecified time, become nocturnal creatures, surviving on a badger type diet, (supplemented occasionally with cooked meals brought down by his friend) and exploring and experiencing the wooded valley world at badger eye level.
There’s a bit too much detail for me on the subtleties of earthworm flavours from different terroirs, let alone earthworm slime taste variations, let alone the experience of actually eating a worm. Perhaps also too much exploration of consciousness and what this might, or might not involve for a creature like a badger, although I guess he’d argue that this was the very purpose of his project.
No matter, as always, there are some nuggets I seized upon in the book, although interestingly, there’s no mention of the (occasional) annual feast of chafer grubs, which is what I’m pretty certain drives the badger(s) frenzy of activity here. Click here and here for previous posts covering such damage in September 2017. Apparently a badger diet is typically about 85% earthworms.
There’s an extraordinary observation quoted from another author’s book on badgers, that if a person presses their hand down at 10.00am in the morning, into a badger trail/path, which are very stable, regular routes a badger will use to negotiate its territory surrounding the home sett, it leaves a scent. At 10pm, a male badger using the same trail will stop at this exact point. Pause, and then make a wide diversion. Whereas a female badger with attendant cubs will, at the same point, stop, and immediately retrace her steps. Foster then makes an attempt to interpret in human terms the sensory and perception and behavioural processes involved in these badger responses. This reassured me that if I want to protect such damage in future years, I really should be using my pee filled watering can from early September onwards, at the known badger points of entry into this field, which is now much more obvious as our neighbour’s pasture is rarely grazed short these days. This year a spell of a few days of rain had kept me from this field so I missed the first signs of damage.
However, every cloud has a silver lining, and I used these disturbed areas as a site for scattering some recently obtained meadow seed from the species rich meadows at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, after listening to a presentation by Dr. Kevin McGinn, for the Carmarthenshire Meadows Group.
Whilst we already have many of the species growing here on site, there are a few we haven’t found yet, and anyway I always like the idea of a greater diversity of species ecotypes, which might result.Kevin was very helpful in posting out some small quantities of seed speedily, so that they could be scattered in time for the autumn rains, and sheep being returned to this field for the first time since early January, this week, to aid in trampling the seed in.
Sink, easy, down on Albion’s lichened
Rusty pommel. Listen, eyes wide shut.
Hear the silence of the valley’s void,
Stretching to infinity.
An emptiness, devoid of anything,
A dry leaf falls, a single acorn
Clatters down the slates, is gone.
Strain mind, to disengage and hear.
In this high-pressured early autumn
Which can’t forsake
The light, long days of summer.
The fleeting sun heats lids,
Through hidden, cloud torn splits.
The cheeks, alert for merest zephyred breeze,
Hang, primed and still await
Fair Arwen, yet to strike,
And snap this simmering elvish spell.
Light mizzle drifts, conducts. The robins’ piccolos begin
And trill, the blackbird pinks
The raven’s taut wing drum, beats high,
The rattled wren, tricks low.
Three minutes stretched. Two hundred, long, soft, seconds.
Too long, this strange contemporary eternity
For such constraint,
Such patient discipline.
Soon fractured – stereo’d tyres riff past,
A distant jumbo, rumbles.
The lids have moved. This echo,
This strange and alien serenity, has passed.