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Where eagles dare

This week: What is a historian; Civil War; Meltdown; Designing with colour; Where eagles dare; Not the season for planting;

Boats in Stari Grad harbour
Boats in Stari Grad harbour

It has been another hot and humid week. We are 3.5 degrees above the average for high temperatures, low temperatures and the combined average. But looking ahead to next week, there is a possibility of some rain from Tuesday, which will lower the temperature somewhat.

Average weekly temperature to 1st September
Average weekly temperature to 1st September

What is a historian?

In the United States the term “History buff” is used to describe someone who is passionate about history, but may not necessarily have a formal qualification. The equivalent in British English would be “History anorak”.

However in the vernacular, someone who is termed an “anorak” is thought of as being a person with an unnatural fascination in something that a normal, healthy adult would regard as a complete and utter waste of time: a sad individual devoting unhealthy amounts of time to things that don’t actually matter…

In Australian English, our antipodean cousins have carried it to a new level, with the term Nuffy being used instead of Anorak. However this is viewed as definitely offensive. This is why you have to be so careful with terms, because what to one person seems quite innocuous, to another may verge on the “I’m going to punch your lights out” offensive!!

There are several other less perjorative terms for someone with an interest in history , but perhaps the one I like most is “student of history“.

A student is always learning. A historian on the other hand might be expected to be earning a living from the process of just being a historian. A student can also be an SME – a Subject Matter Expert.

This week the current British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that he is going to Prorogue the UK Parliament. Ostensibly it is to create space for a new Queen’s Speech in October, but with most sensible people realising it is just another tactic to ensure that BREXIT happens on 31st October.

So, as BREXIT will affect me and all the other expats, I’ve been listening to talk radio to try and understand the big picture.

Civil War

You can listen to the radio and do something else. With Television, you need to concentrate on the screen. What came to mind during one heated radio debate, verging on civil war about the rights and wrongs of Prorogation was that from a British Subject’s point of view, we are living through turbulent time. Times which will be written about by future students of politics and political history for many years to come.

We live in an age where news flashes pop up all the time. But consider the population of the British Isles in the 1640’s, a time I have traced my ancestors back to. This was the century when there was actually an 11 year long English Civil War.

Battle of Edgehill – 23/10/1642 – Photo: British Battles.com

Many in the general population of the time were illiterate and most worked the land and could probably be described accurately as “peasant farmers”.

News travelled slowly, whether it was English Civil War battles, or the execution of King Charles I. The population of the UK at the start of the 17th century is estimated to have been 5½ million. Today it is 69 million.

If someone heard that Parliament had been suspended by the King they were unlikely to have comprehended its significance, at a time when few people had ‘the vote’. They might have grasped that the beheading of Charles I was important, but could not know he was to be the last English monarch to die in this way.

When I was learning the history of the period at school, some 300+ years later, I have to say I didn’t grasp it either! But that was more about the way the subject was taught…

But in the 350 years since, and up to the present, the students of history and the historians have written at length, and continue to do so, about those turbulent times, the various Parliamentary devices and manoeuvres used and the effect that the period has had on English and British history to the present day.

We will be around to see what happens on 31st October, but the future ramifications of the BREXIT debacle, will also probably be written about for many decades to come, long after we have departed.

The difference is that in 1649 it took weeks for news of the King’s execution to reach the furthest points of the British Isles, in 2019 it takes seconds for news to be flashed to the furthest point on the world.

We are living through a time when history is being made in front of our eyes although its real significance will remain unknown for many years to come…


I saw the front page of the Daily Mirror newspaper on the BBC daily newspaper review this week.

Mirror Newspaper front page
Mirror Newspaper front page

It’s been unusually warm again here – I cycled back up the hill from Stari Grad, at 9 am in 30ºC heat, so a photo of kids splashing in the sea on a warm day is nothing unusual.

EXCEPT the photo was taken 700 miles inside the Arctic Circle in northern Greenland, where it actually should be just 8ºC at this time of year. I am not generally a Daily Mirror reader, but the article is actually worthy of attention.

My interest in the climate is two fold. Firstly to try and ensure that everything I do in my home is sustainable. Whether that is separating the plastics for recycling, making plantings which are drought tolerant, or using drip irrigation systems.

But secondly, because as my weather station records and reports the strange climatic conditions we experience here in the Adriatic, I feel part of the global system monitoring the climate as it changes.

The old lane from Stari Grad corkscrews through the vineyards on its way up the hill to Dol – it is a 100 meter climb over 3 kilometres, so an average of 1:30, with some 1:10 sections. What was immediately obvious was how few grapes there are.

No grapes
Not a grape in sight

Row upon row of vines, whole fields in fact, are simply bereft of grapes. My neighbours tell me this is the result of the hail storm back in early May ( week 18 ) when the fruit buds were destroyed.

After the hail storm
After the hail storm

Some fields have already been ploughed up and will be planted with new grapes. This is because there is huge uncertainty not just about this year’s crop, which the vintners know has been destroyed, but about whether next year the vines will produce any flowers after their setback.

But whereas in previous years, cycling along the lanes you could see hundreds of bunches of grapes, to see not one on my ride back came as a shock.

Our island’s famous Plavać wine might be in a little short supply this autumn.

Designing with colour

I am never short of a job or three, any day of the week. These include outside jobs – when it’s not too hot – and inside jobs when it is.

I finished my small bathroom some time ago, apart from doors. The bathroom is compact and when the building work eventually starts, it will be off the corridor leading from the lounge to the bedrooms. Now it is off a cul-de-sac leading nowhere, so the need for its own doors hasn’t existed.

Compact bathroom
Compact bathroom

I decided I would make Japanese style sliding doors, which take up almost no space, and cut the various pieces of timber, then started doing other jobs. As there are no windows in the bathroom – just an extractor fan over the shower – It tends to be dark, but there is a windows at the end of the cul-de-sac which from Spring to Autumn receives varying amounts of direct sunshine.

I was planning on putting acrylic sheeting in the window panes on the sliding door, to let light in, and to show when the bathroom is in use. However they need to be opaque for obvious reasons.

Here I am back to not being able to get what I need, with any degree of ease. On the island, our builders merchants have acrylic sheeting, in various thicknesses and sizes, but it is all clear. They don’t even have sticky backed Fablon or similar to render the acrylic opaque. Ask for something opaque or translucent and you just get a shake of the head.

Even over at Bauhaus on the mainland, although they have more variety and even some tinted acrylic, it is all clear. Their suggestion was to use glass. I could use glass, I even found a helpful glazier in a Split back street, but in a bathroom, glass in my experience sufers dreadfully from condensation.

By chance this week, I found an eBay supplier of Acrylic sheeting, who has in stock more than 20 different colours. They vary from clear, through translucent, opaque and solid colours.

So while the humidity was high, I did a bit of designing in CorelDraw. The doorway will be two sliding centre panels and there are two fixed side panels either side, in the Japanese style. Having drawn to scale, measured three times and checked the drawing with the actual, I came up with a design for the doors.

Multi colour doors
Multi colour doors

Using the available translucent colours, of which there are nine, I tried to use maths to work out what colours should go where, so none are next to the same colour, vertically, diagonally or horizontally.

I failed. I could work it out easily for a 4 x 4 grid, but because of the size of the void, it is actually a 5 x 4 grid. There didn’t seem to be a programme where I could put the colours in, the size, the design parameters and press go.

So I went back to the old way of a colour wheel and filled the squares by eye.

The colour wheel
Tried and tested – the colour wheel

With 20 squares, I need to reuse two colours, twice.

But it looks OK, even though the different shades and tones of grey do not come out well. Then for good measure, I played around with mainly primary colours. I could of course have gone for Battenberg!

Primary colours
Mainly primary colours

Where eagles dare

On a hot, dusty lunch time, I was on my way down to the rubbish bins with the daily accumulation of non-recyclables. The sun was at its zenith and suddenly this huge bird shadow passed slowly across the lane in front of me.

I’ve seen plane shadows on the ground before but I don’t think I have ever seen a bird, certainly not this big.

Turning round, and looking into a bright sky was difficult but I soon saw it riding a thermal over the woods behind my home. I called my ornithologist neighbour Steve, who with binoculars, tracked it until we lost sight of it behind our neighbours house.

Booted eagle
Booted eagle – Photo: Juan Lacruz – Avila, Spain

Steve thinks it is a Booted Eagle, Hieraaetus pennatus. It was certainly big enough. The books say they can have a wingspan of over 1.3 meters. The bird is migratory breeding in the Balkans and southern Europe then wintering in sub-Saharan Africa.

Just watching this majestic bird soaring with the rising thermals, effortlessly, silently moving along the ridgeline until out of sight was a magnificent sight.

Not the season for planting

Early in the year I chanced upon some grass which has self seeded in the top orchard. This has not received any water, but seems to thrive and has remained green without any irrigation.

I wondered if it might be suitable to plant else where. This past couple of weeks, the seed heads have grown. I can now identify it as Bermuda Grass, Cynodon dactylon.

Bermuda grass
Bermuda grass

Reading up the literature, this is a nasty invasive plant. Yes, it is extremely drought tolerant. It has roots which go down two meters in their search for water. It spreads through underground rhizomes and surface rooting stolons.

Rooted stolon
A rooted stolon

So this week I have cut off all the seed heads, before they have chance of going to seed. I then cut it back almost to the ground. Much as it looks nice, It is one problem I don’t want to introduce, so will dig it out in the winter.

Looking ahead to next week, pressure is going to drop and there is a 70% chance of thunderstorms on Tuesday.

However thunderstorms do not necessarily mean rain. Storms are erratic, and these are going to move down the Adriatic sea from Rijeka towards the Ionian sea, so they may miss this part of the island completely.

I have been hoping to plant some Lucerne seeds this autumn, but the ground needs to be in the right condition to do it and at the moment, it is far from ready to plant anything.

Lucerne flowers
Lucerne flowers

I’m irrigating still, night and morning. The top of the soil is dust dry, where there is no weed cover, and just underneath it is set hard like concrete.

Unfortunately, an isolated thunder storm or two is just not going to bring the sustained rain we need, to soften things up and to enable any planting to take place…

Which reminds me. I had better go and start irrigating again. NRC.