Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Signs of the times: Autumn #8

More comparisons between the British countryside of today and that from 1959-1961 in the paintings of Charles Tunnicliffe in the Ladybird "What to look for..." series of books.

"...These men, this particular three in brown
Witnessed by birds will keep the scene and say
By their configuration with the trees,
The small bridge, the red houses and the fire,
What place, what time, what morning occasion
Sent them into the wood, a pack of hounds
At heel and the tall poles upon their shoulders,
Thence to return as now we see them and
Ankle-deep in snow down the winter hill
Descend, while three birds watch and the fourth flies."

John Betjeman (from: Winter landscape)

(Copyright: Ladybird Books)

Autumn picture 8
A short Autmn post this time, as the only new natural features of note are the parasol mushrooms in the foreground. The huntsmen and their hound pack are partially obscured by a large blackthorn bush, heavy with its fruit, the much-favoured sloe. I wrote previously about the blackthorn and its uses, including the use of sloes to make sloe gin (which we made a batch of last Autumn and which is reaching maturity in our kitchen as I write).  I will write more about foxhunting iaround a future picture from the Ladybird Winter book, where an actual fox hunt is illustrated. The scene here is festooned with dew-heavy spider's webs, a classic scene of Autumn.

The text accompanying the above picture says "The toadstools in the foreground are sometimes called 'parasol mushrooms'. It is doubtful whether they are good to eat and inadvisable to try." A little strange really, as the Parasol Mushroom, Lepiota procera,  which the drawing certainly resembles, is described quite unambiguously in my main mushroom guide (Roger Phillips: "Mushrooms and other fungi of Great Britain and Europe." Pan Books) as "Edible - excellent"! I wonder if the writer was just unsure himself about which fungi were edible and which would have serious consequences if eaten and so opted on the side of caution (an excellent policy in the absence of sure identification!). Other related species, such as the Shaggy Parasol, can, if eaten, lead to gastric upsets in some people. I'm unable to report on the success or otherwise of this mushroom species since the Ladybird books were first published as we generally have very poor information on the distribution, status and trends in our mushrooms and toadstools.

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