Tag Archives: treasure


14 Oct


Anguis fragilis, or the Slow Worm, is no worm at all, but a semi-fossorial (burrowing), limbless lizard. I found this pair of lovely reptiles many moons ago on the Isle of Cumbrae, Scotland whilst teaching the undergraduate Field Course for the Zoology Department of Newcastle University.

They are breathtakingly beautiful creatures;  bronze, muscular and elegant. But one must take great care in handling them – like all lizards they can drop their tails.

Slow worms used to be common on the UK mainland of my youth, but the depredations of the domestic cat have significantly reduced their number.

Various dictionary definitions of worm would have us believe the word as a noun describes a creature which creeps or wriggles, a person who is weak or despicable, or as a verb -describing ‘moving with difficulty’. In Old English or High German, Wyrm means ‘serpent’ or dragon. Poor terms term for treasure.

I learned the concept of ‘finding treasure’ from my mother. who had an uncanny ability to enthuse me in the natural world and matters philosophical. As a single mother bringing up two boys in the 60’s and 70’s she had to watch the pennies. Her way of engaging my brother Tim and I was to say “Let’s go and find a treasure”. We would set off on a ramble up Stanton Hill towards an old lead mine. Whatever the season, weather or mood, we would always find something to wonder at; flowers, seeds, lichens, fossils, bits of galena and felspar, insects – all manner of living and natural things.

When she was asked, years later “How do you explain raising two Zoologists?” Mam said “I made them look at every ant on the way”.

Essentially, she taught us ‘how to get our eye in’. Although this idiom generally refers to someone who is good at hand eye coordination – in sport – I think it is the essence of doing and looking with a prepared mind. An eye for detail, for natural structure and form are essential in my work. So it is with the same delight I experience in finding slow worms, that I solve design and structural problems with wood….and every time I go to the wood yard I am looking for treasure.

This is some of the Yew I am using to make a four poster bed at the moment – it reminds me of a distant nebula viewed through the Hubble Space Telescope.


An Image from Hubble:

Westerlund 2 — Hubble’s 25th anniversary image

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the cluster Westerlund 2 and its surroundings has been released to celebrate Hubble’s 25th year in orbit and a quarter of a century of new discoveries, stunning images and outstanding science. The image’s central region, containing the star cluster, blends visible-light data taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys and near-infrared exposures taken by the Wide Field Camera 3. The surrounding region is composed of visible-light observations taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys.

Our greatest treasure, our children – and I include great ideas and projects in this – find us, if we are fortunate.

My daughter, Polly, was a most able zoologist’s assistant when she was little, braving inclement weather to indulge her father’s obsession with Natural History. I realise now that I was only doing what my mother did, as a parent, and getting her to squat down and look closely.


The cleft chestnut fence in the background seems to run through my head in this photo taken in 1986 – I do sometimes wish I had listened to my heart many years ago and really looked at this picture. I would have realised that the way to happiness for me was in playing with wood and looking for treasure, it took me a while to get my eye in.


Tuatha Dé Danann

1 Mar


Literally ‘The people of the Goddess Danu’, or in this case from left to right:

Rob, Angus, Jessica, Derek and Sarah – the core of the Friends of Lynwood Gardens, a small green treasure in the heart of Sheffield which has brought together these doughty folk. It is said that the Tuatha (ancestral Irish folk) had four great treasures or talismans that showed their skills in arts, crafts and magic. The first treasure was the Stone of Fal, which would scream whenever a true king placed his foot on it. The next talisman was the Magic Sword of Nuada – the one armed king of the Tuatha – a fearsome weapon that always inflicted a mortal blow when drawn. The third treasure was the spear of the Sun God Lugh, this spear never missed its target when thrown. The final treasure was the Cauldron of Dagda – a cornucopia from which an inexhaustible supply of food came forth.

Well, the friends of Lynwood have in their way recreated four sacred treasures in this hallowed ground in Broomhall. Firstly, they have uncovered and enhanced a strange old neglected Victorian garden with a work ethic enshrined in the practise of sustainable community endeavour rooted in sound ecological practise. Secondly they have safely navigated the multitude of conflicting local and municipal demands and issues without losing sight of the intrinsic nature of their work – enjoyment in being part of the Green Wood. Thirdly, they have generously shared the fruits of their labours with young and old alike and demonstrated a canny educationalists skill of ‘show, don’t tell’ to persuade locals, councillors, funders, movers and shakers (just like the Tuatha who showed great ‘domestic’ skill and leadership). Finally, and most unlike many other friends’ groups I have had the pleasure of working with, they have created a fellowship founded upon youthful energy and a celebration of diversity – a great treasure.

Their figure head and Chairman, Derek, who lives beside Lynwood gardens is, in a very real sense, Lynwood’s guardian spirit – he has quietly woven himself into the very fabric of the landscape:


He has trained and nurtured these mature willows into spectacular living green spun candy floss-like sculptures, worthy of any royal park. Just one of the treasures of Lynwood.

It could be Tir na n’Og – the land of the young, I’ve been there, have you?