The first day of August 2013 began badly with lots of annoying jobs and a call from a grouchy supplier. Then there were Bridge supplies. It seemed impossible to get my head round that minefield. Things started to look up when I went for my lunch time walk. The parks were looking beautiful and there was another rhino to tick off my list. Then I found the rhino motherload…
1 August 2013
As usual all the jobs I had planned this morning had to wait while I dealt with things that had landed on my desk marked urgent. Cue a lot of emails being sent chasing things. Constant urgent chasing tends to lead nowhere. Until things really do get urgent, no one takes any notice. It’s a bit like making threats to children and then not carrying them out. Eventually they just give you that look as if to say, “really, I’m going to be grounded for a month? You know you’ll be so sick of my whining in two hours you’ll send me outside.”
One call came in on my personal mobile from a supplier who hadn’t been paid. I have no idea how he got my number and I wasn’t exactly overjoyed about it. He had a point, the invoice had been approved at the end of May and had been chased three times already. Still, don’t shoot the messenger, it wasn’t as if I was the one not paying. The call got very nasty very quickly. Afterwards I got pretty cross with the accounts manager myself until she pointed out it had been paid by bank transfer and was already in his account. Grrr, why don’t people check before they get all shirty?
After a stint of trying to get my head around ordering the ship’s bridge supplies (the card game that is), which turned out to be beyond my comprehension, I went out for a walk to clear my head. Who’d have thought a simple card game could be so complicated? Before my head actually exploded I contacted our bridge host and asked him to make the order for me. There were at least ten different types of ‘standard’ cards and when it came to bidding boxes, boards and all the different score cards and things, I didn’t even know where to start. I’m pretty sure bridge is something akin to nuclear physics.
Today was the hottest, most humid yet. I walked up through the parks getting rather overheated in the process. The next rhino on the list, number sixteen, was by the bandstand right where I knew she would be because I’d seen her being put there on the very first day and I actually took photos of her yesterday morning on my way to work. Her name is Sunny, which is ironic as it was dull and raining when I took my photos and today it was so hot and crowded in the park I didn’t stop to take more. She’s sponsored by British Gas Solar and, if you know me in person, you’ll understand the irony in that too.
Sunny is painted with blue and yellow sun rays made from geometric shapes of different tones. She was painted by Max Lawrence, graphic designer, photographer and musician and depicts the way solar panels turn the sun’s rays into electricity.
Even without the rhinos there’s always something new to see no matter how many times you visit the parks. Today I spotted a flash of yellow in one of the beds just off the path so I walked across the grass for a closer look. Although I know most of the common plants I’d never seen these before. They vaguely resembled iris but not enough that I thought they were iris.
Three large yellow petals arranged so as to almost form a triangle with a red speckled centre that, on closer inspection, held three tiny, spotty petals barely poking out where the large ones met. These are, as far as I can tell, trimezia and, as I suspected, they are related to the iris. They are one of the most unusual and beautiful flowers I’ve seen but, sadly, like the day lilies they each last just one day. This was a case of being in the right place at the right time. Unfortunately I got a lovely grass stain on my pale trousers taking the photo but it was worth it.
The hydrangeas are still in flower taking over the job of brightening the pathways where the rhododendrons left off. One of the lace caps didn’t seem to have quite grasped the concept of the showy sterile petals being arranged in a ring around the tiny inner fertile flowers. It was a mess of unruly petals thrown together a bit like my wayward hair. All the blooms on the bush were the same. I wonder if it’s some kind of mutation?
This little park really does seem to have some kind of magic about it because the magnolia that bloomed so beautifully early in the spring has developed new buds. The originals were deep pink, the new buds seem to promise something darker. It isn’t unheard of for magnolia to flower twice in one year and it could be that the weather has confused it but this park does have more than its fair share of anomalies. The final colourful spot was a bed of dahlias. They’re a little too brash and showy for my tastes. Still they were nice and bright.
To get out of the sun before I actually combusted I decided to investigate the next rhino, in the Marlands shopping mall. From what I could tell there were actually two and maybe some baby ones. The Marlands Mall was built in 1991, replacing the old bus station and a row of terraced shops and houses. My first job was in one of those shops, a cafe, when I was in my very early teens. Some of the facades of the original houses have been retained to give the shopping centre character. When I visited though I was far too taken with the rhinos to even think about anything else.
Boy was I surprised when I went inside! What I’d found was the mother load of rhinos. There were so many babies I lost count and I think I may have to go back to check them out further. There will be a full report on the babies and lots of photos later, just not today ok?
Rhino seventeen is Erica, a cyber rhino painted by Chris Clancy, a freelance artist specialising in digital artwork. The Electronic and Computer Sciences department of The University of Southamptin kitted her out with all sorts of fancy doodads and gizmos, none of which a mere mortal like myself understands. She is kind of attractive in a techy way but I think all the LED’s and webcams are a tad beyond me.
Number eighteen, was Bunty, a rather cheery thing, sky blue covered with floating red and white tea pots and cups intertwined with a line of bunting. She’s a celebration of the national drink, a cup of tea. As a confirmed coffee drinker and tea hater she is not ‘my cup of tea,’ excuse the pun, but on an aesthetic level she is jolly and bright.
Sponsored by the Marlands she was painted by Denise Hughes a freelance illustrator who works from a studio in Eastleigh. She trained at Winchester School of Art and works in water colour and acrylic. Her website is filled with wonderful portraits and scenes from her travels but her favourite work is murals, especially children’s rooms. My favourite amongst her painting is of a souk in Marrakech, now that brought back some memories.
As I was picking up a crafty frapachino in Starbucks to cool me for the walk back to work I was rumbled. “Caught you being naughty,” a voice behind me said. When I turned, there was my friend The Ice Queen. We go way back, as far as the first ever day at school. Maybe there was something in the water at our school because she is possibly more nutty than I am. She is The Ice Queen because she developed a passion for playing ice hockey at some point in her teens. Ice hockey is a brutal sport where all the violence goes on on the ice and not in the crowd. She took it up again at the age of forty nine when most people are looking for gentler pursuits. See, you thought I was mad, now you know better.
Her smugness about my frapachino was rather spoiled when her own caramel frapachino, complete with whipped cream was presented to her. I’m pretty sure the barista was laughing, having overheard the conversation. After a quick chat about the rhinos in Marlands (The Ice Queen is also a fan and has been collecting them herself) we went our separate ways back to our respective offices.
Walking home over the New Bridge it was, if anything, even hotter. I could feel sweat trickling down my back under my t shirt and my hair was plastered rather unattractively to my head. There was a quick stop on the steps leading to the railway bridge to take a photo of some sweet peas that must have escaped from a garden, pretty pinkish purple blooms, quite incongruous amongst the brambles. It also gave me a chance to rest and wipe my brow.
Despite the heat I decided to try to map the extent of last week’s fire on the green using WalkJogrun. It was too hot to walk all of it but I got a good idea from walking the outer edge at the bottom of the hill and climbing back up to the path where it finished. Worryingly, Commando showed me an article in the local paper saying arson may well be the cause. It turns out the fire on the green was not the only fire that night, there was another forty minutes later at Millers Pond. Given the relative distances between the two, just about enough time to start a fire, have a little look at it and walk to Millers Pond to start another, it seems rather more than a coincidence. My only question is why? Luckily the second fire was spotted very quickly and didn’t do much damage.
There were yellow ageratum flowering along the margin of the fire, hopefully they will set seed and spread, filling in the gaps. The burnt gorse looked like a charcoal forest, a wasteland where I couldn’t imagine anything growing ever again. I’m sure the gorse will recover though. They burn it in the New Forest to stop it getting out of control and it grows right back in no time. Further along the few days of rain we’ve had have worked wonders and already I can see the green haze of new grass coming through the blackened earth. As long as the rain continues to fall this area will soon look as if nothing ever happened. Isn’t Mother Nature wonderful?
There were more of mother nature’s wonders as I began the hot, slow plod through the streets towards home. The seagulls circling in huge numbers first alerted me to it. That many seagulls could only mean one thing, flying ant day. I’m pretty sure flying ant day is a world wide phenomenon and its quite an interesting one at that.
Once a year, when the weather conditions are just right, always a hot still day, usually one of the hottest of the summer, the air is filled with flying ants. They’re about three times the size of the ants you see industrialously marching about the garden and they get everywhere. These are virgin queens and fertile males. These giant winged ants fly high and scatter, ensuring a good mixture of genes from other colonies. It’s time for an orgy of mating the details of which are rather horrific if you’re a fertile male ant.
The virgin queens don’t make it easy for the poor old males, they release attractive pheromones (well to fertile male ants anyway) then do their best to escape them, making sure only the fastest and fittest get to mate. If I was a male ant I’d not be all that keen to be honest. These poor creatures are designed purely for mating, they can’t even feed themselves and live just a few days at most. The ‘lucky’ ones who actually get to mate live even less than that. Mating for the male involves literally exploding his internal genitalia into the queen’s genital chamber (blame Wikipedia for that little nugget of information) after which he dies almost instantly. And there were all the men out there thinking they had it tough!
The queens, hussys that they are, mate with many males, storing their sperm in a special organ called a spermatheca in the royal abdomen. Once she lands, her wings fall off and she wanders off to start a new colony or to replace a dying queen in an old one. The sperm from her one night of passion, will last her whole life, maybe as long as twenty years, and will fertilise many millions of eggs most of which will become just normal garden ants, or drones, dashing about doing ant things in the garden.
My house, in fact the whole crescent, as far as I can tell, is built on a giant ant’s nest. Perhaps the Big Hill is actually just an ant hill. Dig anywhere and you will find ants. You’d think with all the potential new queens around we’d be in danger of being overwhelmed. We certainly don’t need more ants. In actual fact very few virgin queens live long enough to mate, return to the ground, lose their wings and found a new colony. The greedy seagulls and a plethora of other predators make sure of that. There are probably a few young boys with magnifying glasses involved somewhere too!