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Doodlecat's Homepage

Picture of Doodle - a 
black cat

Welcome to Doodlecat, where we enjoy the pleasures of life (with a slight bias towards the outdoors). This page is regularly updated with news and views plus information about any additions or changes to the various parts of the site. It acts as Doodlecat’s Blog too, so the odd rant considered opinion may pop up from time to time.

I would love to be able to say that Doodlecat is all my own work, but it isn’t. Much of the outdoors content is courtesy of the splendid people who participate in the annual TGO Challenge (there is a section entirely devoted to this unique event) and many others.

To help in tracking down that elusive morsel on Doodlecat, the search facility under the title bar above is tailored to help you find it, either on this home page (Doodlecat's Blog) all the rest of the site (Main Site) or – if all else fails - the internet!

So have a rummage around the old cat basket and enjoy your time with us!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Rootling around for a route?

Sometime soon many readers will be turning their minds to the TGO Challenge. A potential new recruit to this merry band is Alan Bell, an experienced hill man and contributor to Scottish Hills and Walk Scotland . Alan has pointed me to these sites as a potential source of information for both the Challenge and Scotland in general. Both sites are a treasure trove of information for any adventurous hillwalker, and browsing the Scottish hills site I noted some very familiar names. This is clearly no secret to those in the know. The trip reports are especially recommended.

To help identify Alan's personal contributions to these sites, his user names are 'mountainman' on Scottishhills and 'mountainstar' on Walkscotland.

From next month many people will be browsing their OS map libraries whilst they await the the results of the TGOC draw. These are a couple of sites that may help in the route finding, or indeed determining an alternative if the fickle finger of fate is ... just a bit too fickle.

Happy planning!

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Pond Life

Digging out the pond
Digging out- flat areas are for plants
Back in October 2007, we decided to enhance the little patch of field that we had bought for a wildlife area by adding a pond. This is a post about what happened, and the extraordinary amount of wildlife a small pond can attract.

Of course, before you see any of the wonderful species that may or may not visit, there is the unremitting slog actually digging the thing! I was assisted by my mate, Dave, for a weekend, and we soon had a very satisfactory hole. We tapered the ends of the pond to make sure that any hedgehogs or other small mammals that might fall in could get out easily. Then, of course, it had to be made watertight. This was no problem where I used to live in Cambridgeshire, where if you dug down you were soon carving your way through the densest clay, but here in Suffolk, just on the edge of the Brecks, the soil is light and sandy, so I opted for a butyl rubber liner, protected by woven geotextile underneath (so no sharp flints or stones would puncture the liner) and I laid the same textile on top so that any sand and soil put into the pond could not puncture the liner from above if I was wading in it.

Filling the new pond
Filling up - note anchoring trench for membrane
Which brings me to a useful tip - when you anchor the membrane in a surrounding trench, don't run the top textile into it as well. For three anxious days I thought the pond was leaking. What was really happening was that the textile above the water line was acting as a wick. Water crept up it by capillary action and either evaporated or was absorbed by the surrounding soil. In any event it lost 180 gallons in two days! Suddenly I realised what was going on (O level in physics not wasted) and cut the textile around the edge and folded the excess below the water line.

Result - no more water loss.

The finished pond
The next tip is to do with water. I made a big mistake by filling the pond from a hose attached to the domestic supply. We live in an agricultural area, and even the groundwater now is full of nitrites, which is ideal for promoting the growth of blanket weed. Fortunately with the purchase of a few plants some pond snails hitched a ride to our pond and set about demolishing the evil green slime. Even so it took a few months, and from then on we have kept the pond topped up with only rainwater captured in butts - a hose is run from the butts in wet weather. The pond has remained pretty much crystal clear.

A frog in the new pond
Our first frog
With sand mixed with a little soil (not too much) to form a natural bed, and oxygenating plants added, plus potted water lily (for shade in the water) reeds, sedges, arums, marsh marigolds and iris etc, we were set up and ready for the aquatic life to arrive. To get things going, in the spring we took a couple of bottles to a nearby natural pond and filled them with water to 'inoculate' our pond with water fleas and the like.

A common newt
A Common Newt
The first to arrive were a pair of ducks, who set about eating all the plants. In the end we had to net the pond until they finally accepted that this was not to be their home! Thereafter, though, we have enjoyed a wonderful procession of wildlife. The first noticeable arrivals were diving beetles, soon followed by frogs, newts, dragonflies (and their mini lobster larvae) and then, tempted by the chance of the odd amphibian for lunch, a grass snake swimming in the water.

The recent drought caused some anxiety as water levels fell perilously low, but it rained just in time. We have been delighted with the results. Birds drink, bathe and splash around and small mammals visit too.We are often asked if we have any fish. The answer is no, as fish would gobble up all the dragonfly larvae and other small creatures, and the diversity that we have would be much reduced.

The pond in Spring
 The finished result - pond and wildlife garden in Spring

By the time full summer arrives, the water lily leaves will cover about a quarter of the surface, giving shade for the creatures that prefer it. Below is one of my favourite pond visitors -  Hissing Sid, the grass snake likes to drop by from time to time in search of a tasty snack.

Grass snake in the pond
Hissing Sid, the grass snake
Overall the wildlife area has been a great success, although it does take just a little more management than I had first imagined (I had imagined none at all) mainly cutting at the right time to encourage the widest variety of wild flowers, and keeping the rabbit population out. We also put up boxes with leaves and straw inside, or bundles of cut bamboo canes for mason bees and leafcutter wasps. These insect hotels are fully occupied. Once the structure is in place, it's not nearly a time consuming and arduous as 'regular gardening'. The rewards are great, and often unexpected, like the arrival of bee orchids, which are scattered thoughout the garden in June.

A Bee Orchid
Bee Orchid
It takes quite a bit of hard work to begin with, but afterwards the bore of mowing is restricted to just twice a year, and there's no need to visit the garden centre ever again! Just put a bench up, sip a cool beer and enjoy.

If you hate conventional gardening, and have a neglected area, even if it's in the middle of town, it's well worth giving a wildlife garden and pond a go. Ecologically sound - and no more boring deadheading, mowing and mulching. Perfick!


Saturday, August 7, 2010

What a carry on!

Fans of the Shewee will be pleased to see that Cambridgeshire police are set to issue all female officers with the little plastic funnels, at a cost of some £3,000.

Or maybe not. In the trial the WPCs concluded that there was "no great need for them". I reckon that on hearing about the trial in the local press, a smart national journo on the Telegraph decided to stir up a few worthies by implying that an order is imminent. The usual cries of outrage from local councillors and the Taxpayers Alliance have followed.

Nevertheless the Shewee's inventor, the appropriately named Ms Fountain, clearly has ambitions beyond mere police forces.

As well as blue, the devices are now available in "Nato Green" and "Desert Sand".



TGO Logo
Next month the fateful October issue of the TGO magazine will be published (magazines are a bit odd datewise). Fateful, because it will contain, along with alluring tales of 2010, the application form for the TGO Challenge in May 2011. I’ve been mulling over routes during the last few days, and a surprising idea has popped into my head.

This time I think I might resist the siren call.

Not because the event isn’t just fantastic (it is), not because there is no social side (I take weeks to recover from the socialising) and not because I wouldn’t be traversing some of the finest wilderness walking that Europe has to offer – and without any paint splashes and helpful little signs to help me on my way. All of this is immensely appealing, as is the fact that it is a linear walk, with each day bringing a new horizon.

It’s that last point that is the problem – each day brings a new horizon. Sometimes I’ve wanted to keep the same horizon for a day or two. Four or five times now I’ve planned a superb ridge walk or other high level foray only to be forced to take a foul weather alternative (OK, OK, sometimes we wimped out). The next day, when I’m fifteen miles further on, the weather has been great. If only I could have sat it out, and not been walking to a schedule.

Alan Sloman in snow shower
I know that many people will happily slog along in driving sleet and zero visibility. In fact I believe that some of the more puritan souls prefer it that way, to judge by their responses to any comment on the weather. “Ah but you should have been here back in ’86. We had to use Braille maps, and wearing three sets of mittens too”.

I understand them to a point, and I’ll admit to experiencing a frisson of delight as a trig point or cairn emerges from the freezing murk after a tricky bit of navigation. But this starts to wear a bit thin by cairn number five. I do like a fine view. In fact my chief purpose in climbing a hill is to get one, otherwise, what is the point? Munro, Corbett, Graham, or whatever bothers me not a jot.

This should not be mistaken for a yen for fine weather – I love to see showers moving across the landscape, and passing periods of snow, hail and blustery rain usually enhance rather than detract from the experience.

“Passing” being the key word there, of course, and the showers preferably falling on someone else.

So, will next year be my year of the missing pieces? All those delicious bits of previous challenges that, for one reason or another, I missed. This may well mean staying put for a day or two before heading off to the next part of the adventure, but I will get them done.

“But I will get them done”. Oh no! … saying that makes me a ‘list ticker’ …. I’ll be drawing up tables next and people will start setting off to ‘do the Lamberts’.

Oh deary me. Maybe I should apply as usual, and just keep the missing pieces scheme as backup in case I don’t get on. I could combine all my missing pieces into one great and gloriously eccentric challenge route. Or, maybe I'll try a completely new approach ... but then I'd miss ... er ... oh, I don't know ...

Decisions. All the time, decisions!


Monday, August 2, 2010

Status Anxiety and how to avoid it.

rucksack and poles by a tree
"What do you get out of it?". I suppose we've all been asked that question by people who cannot understand the appeal of nights alone in the hills, and whatever answer you might give, the chances are that they will remain unenlightened. For some of us it's to find that small part of ourselves that is easily smothered in the hurly burly of what passes for life. Call it what you will - soul if you must - but without it we are surely diminished.

I guess it must have been ten or twelve years ago, when things were really on the up and up and buying a new car or whatever was a matter of writing a cheque, that I realised that life had somehow become pretty miserable. I was putting in overlong hours and dealing with difficult people for much of the time. Still I carried on. Money and ambition are curious things and cause us to behave in curious ways – good and bad. Yes, they can drive us on to achieve great things and improve our lives. But the compulsion to succeed can also drive us slightly mad.

I went slightly mad.

The only periods of sanity were when I went up to Scotland on the sleeper to go backpacking for a few glorious, liberating days. Taking part in the TGO Challenge was just fantastic – two weeks of freedom from the fax, email and phone (I told the office that none of these worked in the Highlands. I didn’t tell them that they didn’t work because all the devices were switched off and in a drawer at home).

I loved backpacking, especially the enforced egalitarianism of having nothing but what you can carry. No matter how much money you might have, you can only carry so much stuff. In fact, carrying too much is likely to provoke ridicule – quite the reverse of ‘normal life’ where the main point of toil, beyond survival, is the accumulation and display of as much stuff as possible.

Gradually, gradually, walking changed my life. Five years ago I disposed of my company and you could say I retired. The truth is that I just stepped off the treadmill for a while and (so far) have never felt the urge to get on it again, although I do the odd job to keep ticking along.  I soon discovered that living simply isn’t terribly expensive and is vastly more pleasurable.

Now, at this point it might appear that I’m about to say that I’ve become a monk, wear a hair shirt and eat berries and roots gathered from the woods. Not so. In my work I still like to excel, and, as anyone who knows me is well aware, I love my luxuries and take great pleasure from them. The difference lies in being able to distinguish between personal luxuries and status symbols.

The breakthrough for me was the realisation that the pleasure gained from acquiring some expensive gewgaw tended not to add greatly to my stock of satisfaction and happiness – at least not after the first rush of delight. So I just stopped pursuing them. Miss W is of a similar mind. In fact she got there before me. And many people that I meet when I amble across Scotland on the TGOC are seemingly made this way.

Comfortable in their own skin.

Cover of book entitled Status Anxiety
Beyond the basics (food, shelter, security, sex) many people are driven not by personal goals but by the craving for high social status, whether merited or not. If one can’t acquire genuine status and respect, then the next best thing is to acquire the badges of status. This, no doubt, is why so many run up huge debts just to parade around in designer labels, drive expensive cars and mortgage their grannies to buy unaffordable houses filled with plasma televisions and the like. Lives dominated by the fleeting triumph of having the latest must have, and the misery of envy as a friend or colleague trumps them.

“It may be tempting to laugh at those afflicted by urgent cravings for the symbols of status: the name droppers, the gold tap owners. … Rather than a tale of greed, the history of luxury could be more accurately read as a record of emotional trauma. It is the legacy of those who have felt pressured by the disdain of others to add an extraordinary amount to their bare selves in order to signal that they too may lay a claim to love”

Alain de Botton.

That's Status Anxiety. We've all suffered from it from time to time and Alain de Botton analyses the angst that this condition provokes. I read his book shortly after my own period of readjustment and thoroughly enjoyed it. For a book by a philosopher it is remarkably readable, and neatly points up the diminishing returns of increasing wealth. It won’t change your life, but it may make you think about it ...

... and maybe understand why the people you see inside the most expensive cars always seem to look so damn miserable!