Eye Of The Spiger

‘Eye of the what?’ I hear you say, ‘Spiger! What the hell is a Spiger?’

This is a Spiger! Complete with stripes, bloody-great jaws, a span the size of your hand, eight legs, a burst of speed that would give Usain Bolt a run for his money, it’s a carnivore that hunts by night or day and it has eight, yes, eight eyes! What would you call it?

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generally, this is your first sighting of your visitor
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getting better acquainted

They hail from the Sparassidae family of what are commonly called Huntsman Spiders. There are more than a thousand different species in this family and they range from the size of your palm to enormous! Not bulky enormous, but like twelve inches leg-span enormous! They also display some interesting methods of locomotion which I’ll come to later. They are spread all around the world in tropical and temperate zones and ‘Yes, that includes the soon to be Disunited Kingdom!’

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beautiful photo – wish it was mine (anon)

Spigers are built for speed and agility. Their legs are a bit ‘double-jointed’ which enables them to take off at speed in any direction. They have eight eyes in two rows which mostly point forward giving excellent vision for rushing around or laying in ambush.  Spigers mostly feast on insects but are quite capable of snaffling the odd gecko or two.

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with a female Brown Bush Cricket
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this really is interesting – if you look carefully you will see a smaller male with the  female Huntsman and a locust for lunch

huntsman-threatThey use venom through their considerable jaws to immobilise their victims and to aid the digestion process. That said, they are generally not aggressive towards humans and any bite, whilst painful, is not a hospital job unless there is an allergic reaction. When bites do occur it is usually as a result of handling. The exception to the ‘non-aggressive’ bit is the female when she has eggs or young – then, if you mess with her, she will generally give you warning by adopting a threat pose (see left) before giving you something else to think about!

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female with egg sack and young

Apart from their speed and agility, Spigers have developed some interesting escape and evasion techniques. Cebrennus rechenbergi, also known as the Moroccan flic-flac spider, when threatened can beat a hasty retreat by doubling its normal walking speed using forward or backward flips similar to acrobatic flic-flac movements used by gymnasts. Whilst Carparachne aureoflava aka the Golden Wheel Spider, from the Namib Desert, will literally cartwheel away from danger at up to 44 rotations per second and speeds of up to one metre per second! I find myself wondering how many failures and how many twists and turns there were along the evolutionary road before this little ruse was ‘discovered’.

We have Spigers in and around our home here in Okçular. They tend to lurk in dark places or the corners between wall and ceiling as well as inside J’s bath towel! From time-to-time they hatch out a brood and then we have hundreds of the little devils all over the ceiling. When that happens I’m ashamed to admit that the death spray comes out followed by the vacuum cleaner.

As a rule, J and I will attempt to capture the intruders and re-introduce them to the big out-doors. Jam jars are generally too small and you’ll end up injuring the creature or else it will see you coming and take evasive action which will only result in another sleepless night for you as your imagination works overtime! Use an old ice cream container and a sheet of card – if you use paper I guarantee that the Spiger will escape and head for the first dark place it sees – generally up a sleeve or down your collar. Always treat them with care because if they get handled or caught up in your clothing they have a tendency to display a ‘cling’ reflex which often then leads to bites and a broken neck at best or, at worst, a right ear-full for breaking the Tupperware as per the following bit of video.

I don’t have any good photos of a Huntsman with young but here is a wolf spider with her young on board taken in my garden. Spiders may give you the creeps but you have to admit they are fascinating creatures.

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Sweet dreams!

Alan in Okçular

Iran Life – Shãhrud Is Nice

Shãhrud is a little bit betwixt and between! It lies roughly halfway between the cities of Mashad, 500kms to the east, near the Afghanistan border and Tehran. As the crow flies, the Caspian Sea is a little over 100kms to the north west over the Arborz Mountains. South, as far as the imagination can imagine, lies the Dasht-e- Kavir, the mighty Salt Desert with the oasis cities and adobe fortresses of Yazd and Rãyen and Bam and the delightful Zein-o-din Caravanserai.

(rescued from Archers blog and first posted August 2014)

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these might give you a better feel for it

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After the disappointment surrounding our time in Mashad, J and I were drawn to Shãhrud from the moment we stepped from the train. It felt . . ordinary, nice! That feeling was reinforced by our taxi-driver, Mansour, who readily agreed to be our guide-cum-country chef for our forays into mountains and desert over the next couple of days. What a pleasure it was to be with him – quiet, dignified and a superb barbecue chef!

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guide Feraidoon and Masoud, the best chef-driver in Iran

So, what does Shãhrud have to recommend it apart from being . . nice . . and not being Mashad? Location! Drive out of town one way and you’re in the greenery of well-watered mountains – drive the other way and it’s sand and camels! There’s a very nice old Sufi mosque complex that’s been restored and a nice park with a man-made waterfall where J got taken over (in a very nice way) by a group of nice Turkmen ladies.

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The town has water everywhere which is really nice and would have pleased Charlie Dimmock no end. Our hotel was nice too, although they didn’t have much idea about dealing with customers. Tourism has been slow for a number of years and not many travellers stop by. As we dragged our bags and gazed up at the sweat-inducing steps to the entrance, the porter-cum-reception guy helpfully pointed out the long-winding footpath before wandering back into the air-conditioned lounge! Nice!

Anyway, enough of this chit-chat – let’s get on with a few of our impressions of Shãhrud. I don’t know if we’ll have the chance to wind down our flowers, mountains and village life trip here when we return to Iran next Spring. That would be extra nice.

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the restored Sufi shrine – before and after (or the other way round)

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You can read about the desert bit of our stay here, now for some mountains and flowers – but mostly flowers!

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yellow tulip
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red tulip
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white tulip

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fritillaria
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forest rangers arrive for tea
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Scarce Swallowtail
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white violet
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violet violets
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Anemone blanda
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southern Arborz Mountains in the distance

I could go on and on with flowers – finally, the very best little restaurant in Shãhrud – the ‘Ariatin’. Lamb shank, buttered rice, green salad, borani (yogurt with mint) and ayran – simple and utterly delicious!

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It’s easy to find, just look out for the Little Chef!

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Sometimes, ‘Nice!‘ is so much nicer than ‘Amazing!’ or ‘Fantastic!’

Alan in Okçular

Blue Heaven

oldest-chewing-gumIt’s more than two years ago since that class travel and blogging act Natalie Sayın sent me a photograph attached to a ‘what’s this?’ Now, Natalie has some seriously good camera skills, but this pic looked like a lump of ancient, peppermint flavoured chewing gum stuck on a rock! (I know about these things and att a photo of the oldest bit of chewing gum ever found – it’s from Finland and is about 5000 years old complete with Neolithic teeth marks!)

(saved from Archers blog and first posted July 2014)

Anyway, Nat’s photo looked a bit like a Carpathian Blue Slug – Bielzia coerulans, a creature that is supposed to live up to its name and stay in the Carpathian Mountains where it is described as endemic. I sent a copy of the photo and location to my good mate Murat who has made such creatures the study and passion of a lifetime. He also works out of the Dept. of Malacology at Harvard University, it’s safe to assume that he knows about these things!

Such was our joint excitement at Natalie’s find that we decided to mount a field trip to the area between Çamlıhemşim and the Ayder plateau to see if we couldn’t find some more ‘lumps of chewing gum’.

We were expecting to do a lot of scrabbling about under rocks and bushes before we got a result – if we got a result at all! It didn’t quite work out as expected. Shortly after we picked Murat up from the airport and brought him to our hotel the four of us, Murat and E, J and I went for a leg-stretch to explore Çamlıhemşim. With a population of 1500 and one street it didn’t take long! The town sits in a bit of a ravine – it’s vertical rock face; retaining wall; narrow street; row of shops/houses; river; vertical rock face!

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photo by ESR

We stopped to admire a flowering shrub growing out of the retaining wall when Murat said ‘Hey, look at this!’ and there they were – Blue Slugs – adults and juveniles! So much for the intrepid search for an elusive species that shouldn’t be there. Considering how easily these creatures were spotted it is astonishing that they have never been previously recorded outside of their range in the Carpathians from southern Poland to Romania!

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Carpathian Blue Slug – Bielzia coerulans adult (top) and juvenile (below) isn’t the colour wonderful?

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Later, we tracked down the route that Natalie had taken when she saw that first ‘lump of chewing gum’. The walk to Tar Deresi Şelalesi (waterfall) is a very pleasurable one and the waterfall itself is spectacular.

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aren’t they amazing!

Natalie had said that she saw her slug near to the waterfall and right on cue two were spotted and photographed. We saw a couple more near some rubbish bins in Çamlıhemşim but although we spent time searching other likely and unlikely places that was the extent of our finds. We spent the rest of our time exploring winding back roads, soaking in hot springs, eating fine village and roadside food and enjoying being together in a still beautiful part of Turkey.

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J and me and E
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this was for the dog (seriously) – it tasted great! (pic by ESR)

finally, something completely different

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Alan in Okçular

A Little Light Relief

. . from all the crap that is going on in the world. A reminder that there is still beauty to be found . . if we look closely enough! Taken this morning in my garden in Okçular.

(as relevant today as it was when first posted on Archers July 2014)

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Robber Fly

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Rhino Beetle – Oryctes nasicornis

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I know, I should get out more often! As it happens, J and I are off to hunt for Blue Slugs in the Kaçkar Mountains in a few days – now that is something for me to get my teeth into!

Alan, soon to be somewhere else for a while!

Urgent and Important

Urgent and important – sometimes there just isn’t enough time (or inclination) to deal with both. To do another ‘Iran Life’ post (urgent – well, sort of) or bog off for a couple of days head-rest (important)? To clean up the workshop after building Gülay’s exercise machine (again, sort of urgent when you consider the state it was in) . .

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don’t look!

(rescued from Archers first posted June 2014)

. . or go walk a mountain with a friend, photograph some flowers (even though I forgot my main camera); eat fresh-caught trout in a village restaurant in the mountains; visit an amazing eco-project and generally chill?

Sod the urgent, we said . . let’s do the important!

So, off we went to Burdur which is a rather unlikely place to escape to, even if it is for only a couple of days. Actually, the town and province is now home to a certain ranking bureaucrat of our acquaintance and visiting him is not just a pleasure, it is always an interesting experience. We had often said to ourselves that we really ought to go and explore the ‘other side’ of Burdur lake and the mountains and so it was that with a little ‘official’ guidance we spent the day doing just that.

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Lisinia Project – general view towards Burdur Lake
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looking towards the wildlife rehab area

We started at the Lisinia Project, a private initiative founded by veterinarian Öztürk Sarıca and manned by a team of enthusiastic volunteers. The project aims to resurrect the barren soil of the area and return it to full, organic production. So far they are doing a great job! Using organic foods, herbs, etc they research and demonstrate the links with processed foods and artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides to cancer and other diseases. As a vet, Öztürk also takes in injured and sick animals and birds and treats them, either readying them for release or providing a permanent home. From an over-friendly wild pig to injured raptors to a stork with an artificial leg – from organic herbs and fruits to organic rose essence, you can find it here. We loved the place and we will be going back. Here’s a link to learn more.

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rose essence distillation plant
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smelling the roses
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Aargh, Jim lad! (stork with artificial leg)
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this little piggy stayed home!

From Lisinia we clambered a small, rocky hill overlooking the lake – a chance to blow the cobwebs away, photograph the view and enjoy the relationship between J and our bureaucratic ‘son’.

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view to Burdur

Then it was off, up the big mountain for a long way on roads that do not appear on maps or Tom-Tom devices! J and I love villages and village people, a fact well known to our host. Eventually, the track ran out at a smallholding cum fish farm cum very basic restaurant – the sort we love – no frills, no fancy waiters trying to be witty and no fancy prices! Salad made from veg pulled from the garden and fried trout that had been looking forward to a future ten minutes earlier! No GMO, no added hormones, no nasty chemicals – trust me, there is no finer meal than that!

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the restaurant at the end of the universe

We set off for an after-luncheon walk but were rained off by the same storms that flooded parts of Denizli and Aydin, although we only caught the edge of it. So, a lot more tea and coffee was drunk and much talking and dossing about done. Later, we moved back to the city side of the lake and climbed the mountain there. J and our host made it to the top and I got to within a few hundred metres – with so many photos of flowers to be taken, a few hundred metres was not a bad price to pay. Anyway, they used the tracks whilst I was scrambling about in the rough – well, that’s my excuse. A few pics because I know you love this stuff!

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balancing bug Burdur

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Russian Marbled White – Melanargia russiae far from its home in the east

Finally, in order to ensure that the important didn’t get in the way of the urgent, we detoured to a certain winery of our knowledge and filled the car with cases of the finest to restock J’s decidedly bare cellar. Now that really does smack of efficiency – combining the urgent and the important with the essential!

Alan in Okçular

ps workshop’s done too – forty winks before the boss breezes in and catches me – fat chance!

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Midnight Marauder

Snake-in-toiletJ and I are not just tolerant of having wildlife around, we positively encourage it – all of it! The odd snake in the toilet or under the washing machine does not result in panicky shrieking and rushing around in circles. (OK, we didn’t actually have a python in the toilet but there was a fair-sized black Whip Snake) That said, there was an occasion a few years back when I sat on a dozing hornet whilst getting into bed that resulted in all of the above plus some amazingly accurate usage of Anglo-Saxon expletives and a carpet slipper!

No, generally speaking, we go out of our way to provide suitable, upmarket accommodation and restaurant facilities to satisfy regulars and passing trade alike. So, we were a bit annoyed that some vandal or other was bent on trashing one of our bespoke fat-feeders for the birds. We were regularly finding it busted off its mounting, hurled around the garden and generally well chewed up. We had a fair idea which family of delinquents was responsible but, catching them at it was never going to be easy because they are clever, resourceful and very, very cautious.

In the end, patience and technology paid off with the little tow-rag caught infra-red handed . .

Marten’s Midnight Marauders from Alan Fenn on Vimeo.

Alan in Okçular (salvaged from Archers of Okçular first posted February 2014)

Habitat 2.0

I got a bit excited about our new creature habitat and published a post before it was finished. That means there has to be a sort of post script to finish the job off and so here it is – the latest release complete with bells and whistles.

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my dizzy sister will be delighted to see her Meerkats have moved in (they’re concrete and she put them in my flight bag!!)

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I love this ‘thing’, it’s a bit like a cross between a roadside farmer’s stall and a Buddhist shrine in the Himalayas.

Alan in Okçular Köyü Nature Reserve

Habitat

harborne-groundsFrom Archers of Okçular September 2013

Back in June of this year J and I were in residence for a Summer School at Fircroft College in Birmingham. Fircroft is one of those fine old houses that have extensive grounds with plenty of mature trees and shrubs – it’s a very pleasant place to be. So it was that as we wandered the gardens one day J spotted a strange-looking construction. On closer examination it proved to be a stack of wooden pallets stuffed full of all sorts of scrap building/household materials and garden waste. It had obviously been there a while as all sorts of plants had colonised it.

‘What is it?’ asked J. ‘A habitat.’ said I, knowingly. ‘I want one!’ said J. ‘Really!’ said I, filing that one away in the bottom drawer.

Izmir-mimosa-acacia-retinodesFast forward to this past week. We used to have a rather large Acacia retinoides, known locally as İzmir Mimosa – we rather liked it! We also rather like (amongst other things) Oryctes nasicornis – the European Rhinoceros Beetle which in its turn likes İzmir Mimosa. Last year the tree began to shed bark and looked decidedly unwell and so a week or so ago I began adding to our store of winter logs. As work progressed the culprits and their handiwork became apparent . .

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male and female Oryctes nasicornis – the European Rhinoceros Beetle
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the culprits and the crime scene
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fortunately wearing gloves – the business end of a rather large Anatolian Yellow scorpion that was sharing the grubs’ tunnels

As J and I stood and contemplated our own mortality where the tree once blossomed, she looked up and said, a bit too brightly for my liking, ‘This will be the perfect place for one of those habitat things!’ For someone who worries about the onset of dementia she seems to do remarkably well remembering things/projects I need to be getting on with.

A few days ago a tractor delivered five pallets and the project commenced . .

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always knew that builder’s stuff would come in useful one day
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Spike doesn’t like being photographed
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Spike’s basement flat
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high-rise des-res coming along nicely

There’s still a bit of work to do to finish off, frog and toad halls, mouse and shrew holes – that said, this has been a fun project for J and me. You too could create something similar to attract all sorts of beneficial creatures to your garden – with natural habitats vanishing or being sanitised you could add your drop to the bucket of conservation. Here’s a link to download a pdf from Cheshire Wildlife Trust that will get you started.

If you are not impressed by what you’ve just seen, then in the best ‘Blue Peter’ tradition, here’s one I made earlier:

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. . not true! This was made by Cheshire Wildlife for a RHS garden show

Happy condo building!

Alan in Okçular

ps in case you wondered where Spike’s place actually is . .

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Even More Amazing!

As I said in the last post – ‘Amazing!’ is all around us – staring us in the face and begging to be noticed. ‘Amazing!’ is in our gardens, behind our cupboards, down the street or lane outside our houses. ‘Amazing!’ is everywhere – if only we are patient and take a few moments to observe – the ordinary becomes extra-ordinarily – ‘Amazing!’  That being the case, and not having got out much lately, here are some more photos, all taken in my garden, that are ‘even more amazing’ depending on how you feel about these things!

It is also an easy way for this lazy blogger to stick up a post without too much thought or effort – enjoy or not as the fancy takes you! Let’s start with something that should fill you with wonder . .

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this macro shows the ‘engine room’ of one of Turkey’s rarest dragonflies, Anax ephippiger – Vagrant Emperor
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this was a very inquisitive Chameleon
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I do like flies!

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copulating snails – snails are hermaphrodites, both sexes in the same body. Here you see an AC/DC couple having an intimate, slimy moment – when all else fails they can turn themselves on and, as the song goes, ‘Sisters Do It For Themselves’ or words to that effect!

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Ischnura elegans – Common Bluetail not a very good photo but a chance to see how delicate and ‘friendly’ some damselflies are
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Kirina roxelana – Lattice Brown, I think the sunlight shining through the wings is quite beautiful
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young Cone-head Mantis – Empusa pennata
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Laudakia stellio – Starred Agama

This guy lives in hole in the wall that is too small for him – every night his tail is hanging out. He is very shy and very entertaining and will have his own post the next time I don’t feel like doing much! I hope the photos made it worthwhile dropping by . .

Alan in Okçular

Am I Making A Silly Point?

village-cricket1The very English game of Cricket has had a profound influence on global events, particularly in the last couple of hundred years. Actually, coming from the county of Kent in the south east of England, I need to change that to ‘the very Kentish game’ because its origins go back to the Weald of Kent in Saxon times. That said, how has this Kentish creation influenced world events . . ?

(salvaged from Archers of Okçular and first posted August 2013)

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Britannia Rules OK!

Well, to start with, there is the British Empire which was the largest the world has ever known – as long as you don’t count the present US Empire (which they deny exists) that is! As Britain built and expanded its empire we introduced cricket to the defeated and crestfallen natives. We taught them the rules of the game, both written and unwritten. We taught them about fair-play, being a team player, honesty and accepting the umpire’s decision even when you knew it was wrong! We played by the ‘same rules’ on a ‘level playing field’ where everyone was equal. We dressed them in white, the colour of integrity and the ruling elite. Above all, we treated them as equals on the playing field and applauded them when they played well. We even accepted defeat by them with grace and gave them trophies. We drank tea with them and shared our cucumber sandwiches!

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All India Cricket Team 1932

With all this equality on the playing field the natives forgot that their country was being raped and plundered and they were being subjected to humiliation at every turn. Instead of fighting the British to a stand-still, ‘Johnny Foreigner’ accepted the empire/umpire’s bad decision, acknowledged the applause of players and spectators alike, tucked his bat under his arm and walked docilely back to the pavilion for the duration.

Countries like India became masters of the game of cricket, meanwhile they allowed the British to rule their country for a couple of hundred years with a relatively tiny administration whilst it was being robbed of anything that wasn’t nailed down and some that was! Cricket was the weapon of empire – a ‘weapon of mass deception’.

Moving on, there are Crickets, as in Bush Crickets! I would argue that crickets are named after cricket. I’m not suggesting that cricket is older than crickets which, after all and as fossil records prove, go back more than 350 million years to the Carboniferous Period. But crickets were definitely named after cricket and the evidence is in the records, so to speak.

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Crickets were first described, recorded and named as such by Linnaeus in 1748. Cricket, on the other hand, has its first recorded reference in a court legal document of 1598. Proof that crickets were named after cricket – although, as I said, I’m not suggesting that cricket was around before crickets. Crickets pre-date human-kind by quite a few million years and the way things are going they’ll probably be around for a few million after we kill ourselves off!

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a beautiful picture of a Green Bush Cricket shedding its old suit of clothes

Homo idioticus has been treating Mother Earth in much the same way that Britain treated its empire. Talking the eco-talk behind a smoke-screen of initiatives about ‘responsibility’ and ‘sustainability’ whilst actually accelerating the primitive plundering of resources. The latest batch of climate change models say it all – we are past the ‘tipping-point’, and change is compounding at an unprecedented rate.

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Vast volumes of methane, a far more dangerous greenhouse gas, are erupting from the defrosting tundra and ‘boiling’ from the floor of the Arctic Ocean. By 2040 vast areas of the planet will be unviable for humans due to extremes of drought, flooding, sea level rise. Such is the speed of change that many species, particularly mammals, will fail to adapt – others, mostly insects and micro-organisms will do so to some extent and some will flourish.

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cricket on the treacherous Goodwin Sands mid-English Channel (something I once did) a curious English pastime doomed to extinction along with the species

Mother Earth is not dying as some claim. Mother Earth is changing – evolving and adapting to the unnatural pressures of one ‘unnatural’ species. The umpire’s finger is raised and there will be no place for those who were stupid enough to believe that some ‘God’ gave them dominion over her.

Our innings is over – the Age of Man is passing!

Alan in Okçular (I also recognise that I need to get out more)

ps ‘Silly Point’ is a fielding position on the cricket field so called because it is just about the silliest place to be relative to a cricket ball coming off a bat at well over 100 mph! You need quick reactions – see below.

pps for those who don’t ‘get’ cricket here is a brief but famous explanation. After reading it you will understand why the British Empire failed to last a thousand years as had originally been predicted:

Cricket: As explained to a foreigner…
You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man who’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out. When they are all out, the side that’s out comes in and the side that’s been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out.

When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in. There are two men called umpires who stay out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out. When both sides have been in and all the men have been out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game!