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Photo: Yurgen Vega/Selva/ProCAT.
The rediscovered Santa Marta sabrewing. It is only the third time the species has been documented: the first was in 1946 and the second in 2010. 

As exciting as space exploration is, there are also exciting discoveries being made on Planet Earth — from ancient civilizations revealed by drought to rare birds showing up after many years.

Graeme Green writes at the Guardian, “A rare hummingbird has been rediscovered by a birdwatcher in Colombia after going missing for more than a decade.

“The Santa Marta sabrewing, a large hummingbird only found in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, was last seen in 2010 and scientists feared the species might be extinct as the tropical forests it inhabited have largely been cleared for agriculture.

“But ornithologists are celebrating the rediscovery of Campylopterus phainopeplus after an experienced local birdwatcher captured one on camera. It is only the third time the species has been documented: the first was in 1946 and the second in 2010, when researchers captured the first photos of the species in the wild.

“Yurgen Vega, who spotted the hummingbird while working with the conservation organizations SelvaProCAT Colombia and World Parrot Trust to survey endemic birds in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, said he felt ‘overcome with emotion’ when he saw the bird.

“ ‘The sighting was a complete surprise,’ he said. ‘When I first saw the hummingbird I immediately thought of the Santa Marta sabrewing. I couldn’t believe it was waiting there for me to take out my camera and start shooting. I was almost convinced it was the species, but because I felt so overcome by emotion, I preferred to be cautious; it could’ve been the Lazuline sabrewing, which is often confused with Santa Marta sabrewing. But once we saw the pictures, we knew it was true.’

“The Santa Marta sabrewing is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list of threatened species and features in the Top 10 ‘most wanted’ list in the conservation organization Re:wild’s Search for Lost Birds, a worldwide effort to find species that have not been seen for more than 10 years. The bird is so rare and elusive that John C Mittermeier, the director of threatened species outreach at American Bird Conservancy, likened the sighting to ‘seeing a phantom.’

“The hummingbird Vega saw was a male, identified by its emerald green feathers, bright blue throat and curved black bill. It was perched on a branch, vocalising and singing, behaviour scientists think is associated with courtship and defending territory.

“The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia is home to a wealth of wildlife, including 24 bird species not found anywhere else. But scientists estimate that only 15% of the mountains’ forest is intact. It is hoped the surprise sighting of the Santa Marta sabrewing will help to protect their remaining habitat, benefiting many different species found there.

“ ‘This finding confirms that we still know very little about many of the most vulnerable and rare species out there, and it is imperative to invest more in understanding them better,’ said Esteban Botero-Delgadillo, the director of conservation science with Selva: Research for Conservation in the Neotropics. ‘It is knowledge that drives action and change – it is not possible to conserve what we do not understand.

“ ‘The next step is [to] involve people from local communities and local and regional environmental authorities, so we can begin a research and conservation program together that can have real impact.’ ” More at the Guardian, here.

By the way, the Guardian routinely covers encouraging environmental stories, including a recent one on the strengthening numbers of protected hen harriers in England. Nadeem Badshah reported here that, according to England’s conservation agency Natural England, “nearly 120 rare hen harrier chicks have fledged in England this year, the highest number for more than a century. … But conservation experts have warned that work needs to continue to tackle the illegal persecution of England’s most threatened bird of prey, which hunt red grouse chicks to feed their young, bringing them into conflict with commercial shooting estates.”

Now, there’s a riddle for you!

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When pannage was common, commoners had the right to run their pigs in the woods. The picture “Harvesting acorn to feed swine” is a miniature from the Queen Mary Psalter, 1310-1320. British Library.

There was a time that poor people could make a living off land that was shared. Then wealthy nobles decided that property rights meant they could close off shared land and keep it to themselves. Some scholars think the enclosure of the commons in England centuries ago was the beginning of capitalism.

Eula Biss at the New Yorker, puts it this way: “Across centuries, land that was collectively worked by the landless was claimed by the landed, and the age of private property was born.

“On the train to Laxton I was facing backward, heading south from Scotland, with the fields of England rushing away from me. I searched their dark creases and their uneven hedges for something I didn’t know how to see, something I wasn’t even certain was visible. I was trying to locate the origins of private property, a preposterous pursuit.

I was looking for a living record of enclosure, the centuries-long process by which land once collectively worked by the landless was claimed by the landed.

“That land already belonged to the landed, in the old sense of ownership, but it had always been used by the landless, who belonged to the land. The nature of ownership changed within the newly set hedges of an enclosed field, where the landowner now had the exclusive right to dictate how the land was used, and no one else belonged there. …

”Walls, fences, hedges, and ditches were all used to mark the boundaries of enclosed land, so that sheep could be kept there, or some other profit could be pursued. Enclosure is how nearly all the agricultural land in Britain came to be owned by less than one per cent of the population. In The Making of the English Working Class, the historian E. P. Thompson writes that enclosure was ‘a plain enough case of class robbery, played according to fair rules of property and law laid down by a parliament of property-owners and lawyers.’

“The pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower were not property owners but economic migrants financed by property owners. They were also communists, in that they agreed to work communally and share the profits of their labor for the first seven years of their settlement, though that agreement did not last beyond the first year. They settled on land held by the Wampanoag people, who did not practice the absolute ownership of land. Among the Wampanoag, rights to use the same plot of land could overlap, so that one family might hold the right to fish in a stream and another might hold the right to farm the banks of that stream. Usage rights could be passed down from mothers to daughters, but the land itself could not be possessed. …

“Enclosure [unfolded] slowly, in the course of about five hundred years. It began in the Middle Ages and was completed by acts of Parliament in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This land revolution set the stage for the Industrial Revolution. Enclosure, Marx argued, is what produced the landless wage workers who became the proletariat. Historians disagree on that, so it is safer to say that enclosure produced Romantic poetry, a literature marked by nostalgia for a lost world. …

Laxton is the one remaining village in England that was never enclosed, and where tenant farmers still work the land coöperatively, as they have for at least the past seven hundred years

“They use the open-field system, cultivating crops on narrow strips of land that follow the curvature of the hills. There are no hedges or fences between these strips, and working them requires collaboration among the farmers.

“In the time before enclosure, shared pastures where landless villagers could graze their animals were common. Laxton had two, the Town Moor Common and the much larger Westwood Common, which together supported a hundred and four rights to common use, with each of these rights attached to a cottage or a toft of land in the village. In Laxton, the commons were a resource reserved for those with the least: both the commons and the open fields were owned by the lord of the manor, and only villagers with little more than a cottage held rights to the commons.

“As a visitor from the age of private property, it seems remarkable to me that commoners held rights to land they did not own or rent, but, at the time, it was commonplace. In addition to common pasture, commoners were granted rights of pannage, of turbary, of estovers, and of piscary — rights to run their pigs in the woods, to cut peat for fuel, to gather wood from the forests, and to fish. These were rights to subsistence, rights to live on what they could glean from the land. In the course of enclosure, as written law superseded customary law, commoners lost those rights. Parliament made property rights absolute, and the traditional practice of living off the land was redefined as theft. Gleaning became trespassing, and fishing became poaching. Commoners who continued to common were now criminals. An entire legal history is told in the four lines of one anonymous English poem:

“The law locks up the man or woman
“Who steals the goose from off the common,
“But lets the greater villain loose
“Who steals the common from the goose.”

More at the New Yorker, here. The book Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia offers considerable insight on the world’s loss of the commons. Fascinating read.

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Photo: David Clode/Unsplash.
An emu. Would you want to cross a guy who looks at you like your third grade teacher at her most exasperated?

Never leave the scene of an accident. That’s today’s message from the Animal Kingdom.

Jennifer Hassan writes at the Washington Post about a recent lesson from the UK.

“England has two new, unexpected celebrities — a 42-year-old chef and a massive emu, who inadvertently teamed up to help catch a driver who fled a crash scene after narrowly missing pedestrians and causing extensive damage.

“Dean Wade said he heard a loud ‘screeching noise’ near his workplace in Wiltshire, southwest England, on Monday and raced out to see a jeep careening before smashing into the front of an empty shop.

“In an interview with the Washington Post on Wednesday, Wade, who has been working at the Old Bell Hotel in Malmesbury for only two weeks, said he could see the driver, who ‘appeared drunk,’ was getting ready to back away from the scene. A female passenger had left the vehicle.

“ ‘There’s no way you’re going anywhere,’ Wade told the man, who he said was ‘swaying’ and ‘staggering.’ all over the place. …

“Wearing his slip-resistant rubber kitchen clogs and chef’s overalls, Wade chased the driver for 15 to 20 minutes, through bushes, allotments and gardens before the pair ended up at an animal sanctuary. …

“ ‘I could see this massive emu,’ Wade said. ‘I’m six foot tall and it was bigger than me.’

“Wade said he could tell the bird, which was surrounded by its offspring, was likely to spring into defense if anyone intruded its enclosure.

“ ‘Mate, don’t go in there,’ Wade warned the man, who he said ignored his advice, replying: ‘I can fight emus’ before heading into the animal’s pen — where he was repeatedly pecked.

‘It was stabbing his body all over,’ Wade said, causing the man to curse and unsuccessfully attempt to ‘kung-fu-kick’ the animal away.

“The bird kept stabbing at the driver, who eventually gave up, fled the pen and headed toward a river — while Wade took the opportunity to flag down a nearby police car. …

“Following ‘an extensive search of the area,’ officials said, one person had been arrested after driving drunk. They did not name a suspect.

“Wade told the Post that he had just relocated from the sprawling city of Leeds to the picturesque village of Malmesbury for his new job at the Old Bell Hotel, which claims to be England’s oldest hotel. According to its website, the venue has served travelers since 1220.

“ ‘In Leeds, we don’t stand by and do nothing,’ Wade said, crediting his home city of West Yorkshire and his passion for justice for providing him with the instinct to chase the driver.

“Emus are classified as one of the world’s biggest birds, according to National Geographic. The animals can weigh up to 97 pounds and grow over six feet tall. While they cannot fly, they have ‘long, powerful legs’ that they often use to kick predators that come too close.

“Wade was keen to stress that he did not consider the birds aggressive but, rather, ‘curious creatures’ that are determined to protect their young. …

“Wade admitted his new life and job in Malmesbury had so far surpassed all expectations: uniting with an emu to solve crime; being invited to appear on national radio and TV in the UK; and fielding interview requests. …

“The emu, despite its newfound fame, has retained a lower profile, with the wildlife sanctuary declining interviews but telling national broadcaster BBC that all its emus were unharmed and that they are ‘wonderful creatures.’

“Following Wade and the emu’s successful partnership, the hotel and the animal sanctuary have also teamed up — striking a deal that sees staff deliver bucket loads of vegetable peelings from the kitchen to the animals each day in a bid to reduce food waste.”

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good. More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Andy Chopping/MOLA.
This newly unearthed mosaic is thought to have adorned the floors of a Roman dining room. The spot where it stands is close to London Bridge.

There are still surprises to be found on Planet Earth. Sometimes right beneath your feet. In today’s story, it was a Roman mosaic buried below a parking lot. Wouldn’t you have liked to be the chap who first realized what was there? As often happens in archaeology, the mosaic was discovered in the process of prepping a site for new construction. Jeevan Ravindran had the story at CNN.

“A large area of well-preserved Roman mosaic — parts of it approximately 1,800 years old — has been uncovered in London near one of the city’s most popular landmarks. The mosaic is thought to have adorned the floors of a Roman dining room, and the spot where it stands is near the Shard — the capital’s tallest building, close to London Bridge.

“Archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) unearthed the mosaic earlier this month during an excavation ahead of building work due to take place on the site, which previously served as a car park.

“The find is the largest area of Roman mosaic to have been discovered in London in at least 50 years, according to a press release from MOLA.

” ‘It is a really, really special find,’ Sophie Jackson, MOLA’s director of developer services, told CNN Wednesday, adding that large Roman mosaics were not often built in London due to it being a ‘crowded’ city. …

“The dining room where the mosaic was found is thought to have been part of a Roman ‘mansio,’ or ‘upmarket “motel” offering accommodation, stabling, and dining facilities,’ the team said in the press release. The lavish decorations and size indicated only ‘high-ranking officers and their guests’ would have stayed there.

“The mosaic itself is [composed] of two panels, with the larger dating to the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD. However, the team spotted traces of an earlier mosaic underneath, which Jackson said an expert will now attempt to retrace and reconstruct.

“The larger panel is decorated with ‘large, colorful flowers surrounded by bands of intertwining strands’ and patterns including a Solomon’s knot (a looped motif). …

“As there is an ‘exact parallel’ to this design in a mosaic found in the German city of Trier, the team believes the same artists worked on both, suggesting a tradition of ‘traveling Roman artisans at work in London.’ …

“Near the spot where the mosaic was found, the team also found traces of ‘lavishly’ painted walls, terrazzo-style and mosaic floors, coins, jewelry and decorated bone hairpins, suggesting the area was occupied by wealthy inhabitants.

“Although the mosaic’s future is not yet decided, Jackson said it will likely go on public display. The archaeologists will now proceed to the final stage of the excavation, at a spot that has not previously been examined.”

Bet the folks behind the planned construction are feeling a little frustrated! More at CNN, here.

You may also like to read about the mosaics in Trier, a World Heritage site. Dr. Marcus Reuter, director of the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, says, “Most of the mosaics come from our own excavations in the region. Many impressive objects that point to the Roman city’s significance have been found in the former Roman Imperial Residence of Trier.” More from Germany here.

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Rx: Nature

Photo: Jim Wileman/The Guardian.
Seven of the UK’s National Health Service care groups received [$6.9 million, combined] in government funding for projects harnessing nature to improve mental health.

I’d be the last person to tell any person who badly needed therapy to take a walk in the woods. But as today’s article indicates, nature does have healing properties. If you’re feeling down, you could try it. Like chicken soup, “It wouldn’t hurt”!

Reporter Damian Carrington at the Guardian has been talking to patients.

” ‘It sounds dramatic, but this place saved my life,’ says Wendy Turner, looking out over the Steart salt marshes in Somerset. ‘I am really loving the colours of all the marsh grasses at the moment, and the flocks of dunlin and plover. The light is just so beautiful.’

“Turner was once a high-flying international project manager. ‘But the Covid pandemic resulted in me losing everything – my business and my home – and I had years of abuse in a marriage.’ In July 2020, she attempted suicide and woke up in [the emergency room].

“But then she discovered the Steart nature reserve. …

“Turner is one of the fast-growing number of people using nature to improve their health and wellbeing and she is now helping to boost the rise of ‘green social prescribing,’ where health and community services refer people to nature projects. She has helped co-create a mental health and nature course with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), which manages the Steart reserve, and the Mental Health Foundation.

“There is already good evidence of nature’s efficacy, such as a 2019 study showing that a two-hour ‘dose’ of nature a week significantly improved health and wellbeing. The missing link has been connecting health services and nature activities.

“ ‘These activities have being going for years, it’s just that they often have not had that connection into the health systems to enable them to receive the people who need the benefits the most, and to deliver precisely what they need,’ says Dave Solly, at the National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP), which was launched in 2019 with funding from the Department of Health.

“But things are changing. Seven NHS care groups from the Humber to Surrey received a combined £5m in government funding in December for projects harnessing nature to improve mental health, including tree planting and growing food. There are also now more than 1,000 social prescribing link workers working in GP surgeries and health clinics, helping doctors link patients to nature activities, as well as arts, heritage and exercise groups. A million people could be referred to social prescribing in the next few years.

Among the projects championed by NASP are Wild Being in Reading, an open-water swimming group in Portsmouth, Dorset Nature Buddies, the Green Happy cafe in Northampton, and a Moving in Nature project in Chingford, Essex.

“Back in Steart marshes, NHS rehabilitation physiotherapist Ralph Hammond is setting off on the weekly 30-minute health walk he leads. He started the walk as a volunteer in 2017, having found there was no suitable walking group for recovering patients.

“The flat landscape and good paths on the reserve, which hosts otters and samphire beds, are important, he says: ‘We are trying to break down barriers – the people I am after are not walking at all.’ The group have been following the fortunes of a pair of white swans and their cygnets. …

“Suzanne Duffus tackles the walk enthusiastically with a sturdy wheeled walking frame. She started coming to Steart after her husband died and is now a volunteer, giving support and encouragement to newcomers. …

“Increasing access to such activities requires staff dedicated to connecting nature groups to the health service. The WWT’s Will Freeman is doing this at Steart and says: ‘For a lot of people, it is very exciting, but it can also be difficult as the cultures of organisations may not match.

“A lot of nature reserves have not been that well connected with their communities.’ … The social side is key too, he says: ‘We sometimes miss the simple human side – just having a chat and asking how you are. Nature is an asset that adds to all that.’ …

“Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of NASP and of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, says: ‘[During the pandemic] we have all become increasingly reliant on our local outdoor space as other activity was restricted. From allotments and parks to walks in the country, being outdoors has been a lifeline for many of us.

“ ‘However, all too often those who would benefit more from time “closer to nature” simply cannot access it. … Social inequalities mean that those in the most deprived areas spend less time outdoors. As a practising GP myself, it is so heartening to see so many projects flourish right across the country, making the most of this approach to health provision.’

“Solly, who is on secondment to NASP from Natural England, hopes that green social prescribing will become routinely offered to those who would benefit: ‘Instead of a prescription for further medicine, your prescription is to go to an activity, with a suggestion of a few options that work for you.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Clive Barda.
Opera singer John Tomlinson rehearses
King Lear. 

I remember once watching an Aida on television with staging that made my skin crawl. Here was Aida, here was her true love — both knowing they were dying — singing to each other from opposite sides of the cave, no touching. Really? You can’t always blame opera singers for bad acting when it’s the director’s staging that makes no sense.

Today I have a story for all the people who like to listen to opera but hate unnatural staging and acting. Turns out, there are singers who have longed for a chance to show what they can really do with drama.

Michael Billington writes at the Guardian, “I had coffee recently with King Lear and Goneril. To be more precise, with John Tomlinson and Susan Bullock, who play these roles in a brand new production of Shakespeare’s tragedy – one to be staged at the Grange festival in Hampshire [in July] with a cast exclusively drawn from the world of opera. …

“Its director, Keith Warner, says it started with him, Tomlinson and Kim Begley (ex-RSC before turning to opera) planning a two-person version called Lear’s Shadow. Word quickly spread and a reading of the whole play was mounted in Warner’s house. The result is a full-scale production with a dream cast. ….

“Talking to Tomlinson and Bullock, I am struck by their passion for theatre. At college, Bullock played Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and became an ardent fan of Manchester’s Royal Exchange. ‘Seeing Uncle Vanya there with Albert Finney,’ she says, ‘made me think: “This is what I want to do.” When people ask me if I’ve ever acted before, I tell them I’ve been doing it all my life. You don’t get to play Brunnhilde or Electra without being able to act – and singing a Schubert song is a drama in itself.’

“Tomlinson, who made his stage debut at the age of six as a panto sultan, was equally turned on by Manchester theatre and recalls the excitement of going to drama, dance and improv classes when a student at the Royal Northern College of Music. Both are theatrical animals as well as singers – but is there a radical difference between working on an opera and a Shakespeare play?

“ ‘There are a lot of similarities,’ says Tomlinson. ‘You start with understanding the text, letting your imagination flow and working alone before joining the cast. The big difference is that in opera, we are used to emotions being sustained for a long time and underpinned by the music. In a Handel aria you might sing “I love you” for 10 minutes on end. In a play, particularly in Lear where the king is so mind-changing and capricious, you have to be more nimble and quick-thinking.’

“Bullock concurs, pointing out that in opera the drama inevitably starts in the orchestra pit.

‘What is so liberating about a play,’ [opera singer Bullock] says, ‘is that tempo and rhythm are in the hands of the actor, rather than the composer or conductor, and can vary hugely from one night to the next. I am loving the freedom and flexibility this gives me.’

“There is still a popular canard that opera singers are inferior actors: that, at best, they stand and deliver or deploy a limited number of traffic-cop gestures. It is a myth Tomlinson especially can’t wait to demolish. … ‘I’d say that in the UK from the 1960s to the late 1990s, singers were generally very good actors. But I admit that in the last couple of decades, operatic acting has often been stymied by hi-tech design and concept-driven direction that treats the singer as one item in a visual scheme.’ …

“What have Bullock and Tomlinson discovered in rehearsal? ‘That Goneril,’ says Bullock, ‘is not a figure of undiluted evil. She is a complex woman who has suffered from a dictatorial father, who knows that Cordelia is Daddy’s darling and who, quite reasonably, asks why he needs a train of 100 knights.’ …

“For Tomlinson, the whole play is a voyage of discovery. ‘Lear begins,’ he says, ‘as a brutally authoritarian figure but gradually becomes aware of poverty, homelessness, cruelty and injustice. The last is a subject he never stops talking about. … Lear, whose relationship with the Fool is a bit like that of Boris Godunov and the Simpleton in the Mussorgsky opera, also acquires a boundless curiosity. By the end he is not so much morally redeemed as spiritually enlightened.’ “

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Cronkshaw Fold Farm.
This is Lulu. “Lulu likes to use her treacherous screech to interrupt any time a goat other than her is booked for a call.”

Everybody loves goats. I’ve lost count of the number of times my youngest grandchild has had me tell her the story of the goat that ate my brother’s mitten when he was 2 or 3. Maybe the goat only pulled the mitten off. Not sure. But eating makes a better story, and my granddaughter likes me to embroider the tale with all sorts of other details that never happened.

Meanwhile, in England, goats are participating in Zoom calls. Sydney Page reported the story for the Washington Post.

“At this point in the pandemic, Zoom fatigue is universal. But one woman has a solution you never knew you needed: a live goat on the call.

“Cronkshaw Fold Farm in Lancashire, England, has been offering up their goats to make spontaneous, up-close appearances in virtual meetings anywhere in the world.

” ‘It started as a joke. It wasn’t actually supposed to be a thing,’ said Dot McCarthy, 32, who runs the family farm, which spans two generations.

“The goats drop in on otherwise mundane virtual gatherings, including seemingly serious business meetings, birthday parties, baby showers and high school math lessons. Out of nowhere, a goat will appear in the meeting with its name displayed on the screen.

It’s typically a surprise to all attendees but the organizer. The idea is that the goat ‘crashes’ the party. …

“At first, ‘it was just to give people a laugh, and I thought, maybe we’ll get a few more egg and meat sales because people are on the website,’ McCarthy said. ‘But what actually happened was people were like, “Yes, I need a goat.” ‘

“After sharing a post on the farm’s website explaining the idea one evening early in the pandemic, she woke up the next morning to 200 emails requesting a goat call. In the past 11 months, Cronkshaw Fold Farm has facilitated more than 10,000 five-minute video calls on conferencing platforms.

“While the main idea is to get some laughs during a grim time, the goat video calls have managed to keep the 500-year-old farm afloat — and staff members employed. …

“ ‘You just see people screaming and saying, “Why is there is a goat in here?!” ‘ McCarthy said, adding that each goat is labeled with their name when entering a call because they each have a particular personality.

“People like to have their pick, she said. That’s part of what makes it fun. Seven of the farm’s 40 goats are showcased on the website, with a photo, a brief bio, as well as a ‘what to expect’ section displayed for each. …

“Alongside training sheepdogs and selling eggs, meat, produce and manure (for gardening purposes), the farm financially depends on hosting educational visits, weddings and other events, all of which paused during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Employee wages are normally reliant on these events, McCarthy said, leaving her in a bind. ‘They work so hard,’ she said, explaining that she was adamant about keeping her two employees on the payroll. ‘I just iterated through idea after idea, asking myself what we can do to make money.’ …

“ ‘A few friends who work in the tech sector were saying how bored they are with video calls, and I was like, “You know what would be funny? If you just had a goat appear in your call. Why not throw a goat into the mix?” ‘

“Since April, the spontaneous service has brought in around $60,000, allowing McCarthy to continue paying her staff members. Plus, additional funds go toward her long-term goal of converting the farm to renewable power.”

More at the Washington Post, here.

By the way, in Lunenburg, Massachusetts, you can go hiking with a goat for a reasonable fee. Check it out. Are you on Instagram? You’ll get a kick out of @sweateredgoats from Bangladesh and India.

Photo: Christy Sommers.
An Iowa native’s Instagram account features sweatered goats in Bangladesh and India. Check out my previous post.

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Photo: Mark Stone/University of Washington
Researchers Jenifer McIntyre, from left, Edward Kolodziej, and Zhenyu Tian investigate the salmon die-off at Longfellow Creek, an urban creek in the Seattle area.

Today’s post features two articles on a worrisome environmental issue. In the Guardian, Oliver Milman reports that pollution from abandoned tires is killing off salmon in the Pacific Northwest and may be harming other wildlife as well. But at the Christian Science Monitor, writer Lindsey McGinnis suggests help is on the way.

Oliver Milman: “Pollution from car tires that washes into waterways is helping cause a mass die-off of salmon on the US west coast, researchers have found.

“In recent years, scientists have realized half or more of the coho salmon, also known as silver salmon, returning to streams in Washington state were dying before spawning. The salmon, which reach 2ft in length, are born in freshwater streams before making an epic journey out to sea where they live most of their adult lives. A small number then return to their original streams to lay eggs before dying.

“The cause of the die-off has remained a mystery but a new study, published in Science, has seemingly found a culprit. When it rains, stormwater carries fragments of old car tires into nearby creeks and streams. The tires contain certain chemicals that prevent them breaking down but also prove deadly to the coho salmon. …

“Said Jenifer McIntyre, an assistant professor of aquatic toxicology at Washington State University. ‘The more we look, the more we find it. In some years all of the fish we find dead did not spawn.’

“Samples taken from urban streams around Puget Sound, near Seattle, and subsequent laboratory work identified a substance called 6PPD, which is used as a preservative for car tires, as the toxic chemical responsible for killing the salmon.”

What can be done? Lindsey McGinnis talks to a group of inventive young people in England who may have an answer.

“Every time a car brakes, accelerates, or changes direction, the friction wears down the exterior of the tire, sending particles into the environment. Some remain suspended in the air, and others get swept into local waterways, where they can have devastating effects on plant and animal life. …

“A group of master’s students from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art had an idea: what if the tires picked up after themselves?

“The Tyre Collective, a project by recent graduates Hugo Richardson, Siobhan Anderson, Deepak Mallya, and Hanson Cheng, seeks to capture this stealthy pollutant as it flies off the wheel. For the past year, they’ve been working on a device that can attach to the bottom of a car and use electrostatic charges, along with the airflow of the moving wheel, to collect particles for reuse.  

“The inspiration came from rubbing a balloon over a sweater and seeing the pieces ‘dancing around,’ says Mr. Richardson, chief technical officer of The Tyre Collective. ‘That led us to the assumption that the particles are charged due to the friction.’ ” 

The Tyre Collective won the 2020 James Dyson Award for the UK, which celebrates the next generation of design engineers. It was a runner-up for the international version of the award.

“Gavin Whitmore, manager of the Tire Industry Project, an initiative by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development geared toward better understanding the potential health and environmental impact of tires, says his organization is keeping an eye on their work … said, ‘We’re certainly interested to learn more, because it could be a very, very promising thing.’

“Tires are more complex than they look. The vulcanized rubber compound that makes up the outermost layer, the tread, often contains sulfur, zinc, carbon black, bisphenol A (BPA), and other chemicals. A lot of that gets swept off the roads by rain, along with motor oil, bits of pavement, and other litter.

“A three-year study by the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI) found that stormwater carries roughly 7 trillion microplastic pieces into the bay annually – more than 300 times the discharge from the area’s wastewater treatment plant. Nearly half of those appear to be tire fragments.

” ‘Seeing all these black rubbery particles was a surprise,’ said Rebecca Sutton, a senior scientist at SFEI. … ‘No one had really looked at stormwater. It’s also probably just a tip of the iceberg, because most tire particles are actually smaller than our sieve size.’ …

“Tires are the second-largest source of primary microplastic pollution in the ocean, after synthetic textiles, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. To reduce the amount of tire pollution, Dr. Sutton says governments could consider setting emission standards similar to those for engine exhaust.

“But it can be hard to figure out how much material tires are actually shedding, or should be shedding. Tire wear is heavily influenced by the roadway, the weight and type of vehicle, and the driver’s behavior. In London, The Tyre Collective says a busy bus route can generate a grapefruit-size pile of tire dust in a day. …

“Says Sarah Amick, vice president of environment, health, safety, and sustainability for the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association, ‘Tires are one of the most regulated products for safety in the United States. [Ensuring] that we can continue to meet those safety requirements, plus adding more renewable and recyclable materials to our tires, it’s a challenge, but our members are working on that.’ …

“During lockdown, the [Tyre Collective] team has focused on turning their vision into a full-fledged startup. They say several manufacturers have expressed interest in their design, though no partnership has been formalized yet. When restrictions due to COVID-19 ease, they’re looking forward to returning to the lab and producing a set of first-generation prototypes to test with potential partners.” More

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Photo: Netflix
The Great British Baking Show

There’s a television show in the UK that has become such a part of American culture that Saturday Night Live regularly spoofs it. In fact it’s from SLN that I even know about the show. Today’s article helps me understand why people love it so.

Eliot A. Cohen writes at the Atlantic, “For my physical health, there is a rowing machine, but for my peace of mind, I have learned this past year, nothing beats old episodes of The Great British Baking Show, which one can binge-watch to satiety on Netflix.

“This trick of seeking temporary refuge from the realities of a grim world by indulging in fantasies of the simple pleasures situated in some lovely part of rural England is nothing new. During the Blitz, Londoners rediscovered the joys of the 19th-century novelist Anthony Trollope. …

“Trollope is still very much worth the reading. But in our fraught times—so much easier, to be sure, than the dark days of 1940—many people like me have sought refuge in a different idyllic England of our dreams. Hence the entirely deserved popularity of The Great British Baking Show — devotees were ecstatic when, the coronavirus notwithstanding, a new season began a few weeks ago.

“Every summer for the past decade, a dozen amateur bakers have trooped into a cheerful, white party tent supplied with counters, ovens, refrigerators, and all the basic paraphernalia they need. Each week is themed — breads, pastry, biscuits. …

“The setting is the lawn of a magnificent bucolic estate in Somerset or Berkshire. Most often the sun shines, but when it does not, we know somehow that the rain is more a gentle and fructifying moisture than a miserable downpour.

“The contestants are supervised by Paul Hollywood, an experienced baker (and race-car driver), and, in later seasons, Prue Leith, the chancellor of Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh and a restaurateur, an author, and a journalist. … They have two sidekicks, in the current version of the show: Matt Lucas, an actor and a comedian, and Noel Fielding, a comic who is weird but amiable, if you like Goth.

“A decent-tasting cake is not enough. … Prue is intimidating enough in her Professor McGonagall way: ‘This is rather a mess, isn’t it?’ and ‘Hmmm. Claggy. What a pity.’ But the hard man of the show is Paul Hollywood. …

“In the days of the empire, he would have been a regimental sergeant major, looking an unhappy private in the eye three inches from his face, pointing at a fleck of lint on an otherwise impeccable uniform, and saying, ‘Your uniform is filthy, you horrible little man.’ … He is one heck of a baker.

“In The Great British Baking Show, there are standards. If it looks a mess, the judges will say so, and the bakers swallow hard and acknowledge their failures. … The vaguely obscene puns — which never seem to grow tired — about flabby buns and the dreaded ‘soggy bottom’ allow no sympathy for the vagaries of fate. Results, not good intentions or effort, are what matter.

“And yet, the show is animated by the warmth of humanity. … There are college students and grandmothers; carpenters and lawyers; soldiers, sailors, and personal trainers; immigrants (or their descendants) of varying hue from Hong Kong and Jamaica and Mumbai. They are remarkably nice to one another.

“When one of the bakers is having a crisis — a cake separating in the middle, a collapsing gluten-enhanced edifice, cracked biscuits — the others rush to help out. … They even hold hands, some of them, in that agonizing wait as the sidekicks menacingly intone, ‘The bakers now await the judgment of Prue and Paul.’ In the face of a really serious meltdown, even Hollywood can be heard to murmur, ‘It’s just a bake, mate.’

“To watch The Great British Baking Show is to believe that the average guy and gal can do remarkable things, that good nature is compatible with excellence, that high achievement will be recognized, that honest feedback can lead to improvement, that there are things to life beyond work. …

“To watch it is to know that, Brexit or no Brexit, and despite royal scandals, political cock-ups, and the occasional omnishambles, there will always be an England. And that is a comforting if possibly delusional thought.

“In short, as the Brits would say, The Great British Baking Show is brilliant, thoroughly joined up, and fit for purpose. To watch it is to feel refreshed, inspired, and confident, ready to return to work with a strong heart and a clean conscience, knowing that somewhere in rural Wiltshire or Somerset, Noel and Matt will say every week in voices of varying and unmodulated creepiness, ‘Bakers! On your marks, get set, bake!’ ”

More at the Atlantic, here.

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Photo: Steve Raubenstine, Pixabay
Once considered a nuisance, beavers In England are now protected.

I remember a woman in my town who was fighting beavers that had decided to build a dam on her property. It was a big property with plenty of room, but When beavers start a project, the dead trees and grass smell awful. A year or so later, I ran into her and asked about the anti-beaver campaign. Oh, she said, I like them now. It smelled bad at first, but now there’s a beautiful lake.

Chalk one up for the lessons of Nature.

Recently the radio show Living on Earth had a segment on a similar learning process in England.

“HOST STEVE CURWOOD: The Eurasian beaver is native to the British Isles but was hunted to extinction some 400 years ago. But not long ago a beaver family mysteriously turned up on a river in Devon, England, prompting concerns about disease and flooding from beaver dams. Some scientists were able to persuade the UK government to allow the beavers to stay as part of a reintroduction pilot plan and recently confirmed that it’s working. Professor Richard Brazier is a hydrologist at the University of Exeter and spoke with Living on Earth’s Jenni Doering.

“JENNI DOERING: So it sounds like these beavers are here to stay. What made this trial a success?

“RICHARD BRAZIER: Yes, that’s correct. The government has allowed the animals to [not just remain] but also to expand. We learn a multitude of different things in this really intensively farmed lowland catchment setting. We learned that the beaver dams could reduce the impact of flooding downstream. We learned that the dams could filter pollutants out of the water. We learned, of course, that the animals in bringing water and creating wetlands to these otherwise dry and drained landscapes that they [bring] biodiversity back. …

“DOERING: What do you think the landscape has lost in all of those centuries of no beavers on rivers?

“BRAZIER: Well, it’s lost a very efficient water-resource manager in the beaver. And therefore, it’s lost a lot of water. And in fact, for the last few months, we have pretty dry weather conditions at this time of year. And during those times a lot of our small streams and tributaries, agricultural ditches, they just run dry. … When you lose that water, you tend to lose all the aquatic life, all the aquatic ecology, that depends upon it. So in bringing the beavers back, and now there’s [15] family groups of these animals in the River Otter, we’re seeing water coming back. … It’s an amazing thing to see because the landscape transforms even in just a few years into a wetland, wildlife rich water resourceful landscape again. …

“DOERING: How do [the rivers and streams] change?

“BRAZIER: [You know, for] hundreds of years, we’ve we’ve straightened our streams and rivers, we’ve deepened them, we’ve even dredged them. … [Beavers] start to push the water sideways back onto floodplains, they start to put meanders back into streams and rivers, they [bring back] the trees like willow, sallow, hazel. And so we get abundant vegetation flourishing again. …

DOERING: And how much have these beavers on the River Otter in the Devin area, how much have they cleaned up the water?

“BRAZIER: [Most] of the lowland streams and rivers in England [hold] a fine layer of sediment above the bed of the stream, which is soil that’s left on agricultural fields. When the beavers build dams, they capture that soil. And so immediately downstream for tens of meters, you see these beautiful clean gravels. And water flowing through those gravels is well oxygenated because it’s not full of fine sediment. Those clean gravels are so critical as spawning grounds for salmon and sea trout. …

“DOERING: So before we go, can you share your favorite fun fact about beavers?

“BRAZIER: Favorite fun fact. That’s a good one. Probably the way in which the [adult] female treats the kids [manipulating] these young sticks and shoots for the young beavers just like humans. [They] really are like a little family.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Back when I was a more regular reader of the New Yorker magazine, I used to love a tiny, bottom-of-the-column feature with the heading “There will always be an England.” The blurbs printed there tended to be about quirky individuals or happenings that struck the New Yorker editors as indelibly English. That’s what I thought of when I saw a recent article in the Guardian.

Steven Morris reports, “The book lovers of Appledore, a picturesque fishing village on the north Devon coast, are a resourceful, determined lot.

“When their library faced closure 14 years ago, they helped save it by launching a literary festival, which grew and developed year by year into one of the most popular cultural events in the south-west of England.

“And when the 2020 Appledore book festival was threatened with cancellation because of the Covid crisis, they came up with the bold idea of holding a coronavirus-secure drive-in event, believed to be the first in the UK.

“Over this weekend, hundreds of people will park-up in a field usually used as an archery range to listen from the safety of their cars to talks and readings on topics including politics, cooking, shepherding and gardening.

“If they are not distracted by the stunning views of the sea, they will hear the wise words of science writers, novelists and environmentalists relayed into their cars via their vehicles’ radios. …

“By March, when the UK went into lockdown, 45 authors had been booked for a nine-day festival this September. … Rather than cancel because of coronavirus, the organisers thought outside the box. They contacted a Devon events company, Waggle, which runs drive-in cinemas, and asked if they could do the same sort of thing in Appledore – but with books.

“They have had to reduce the number of events but are able to accommodate up to 120 cars for each session with up to five people in every vehicle. …

“Appledore and the surrounding area have traditionally been known as centres for fishing and shipbuilding rather than for a thriving arts scene. The festival is changing that.

“The area’s remoteness means that many local people have come to rely on the festival for an autumnal fix of culture. [But] navigating the rules and regulations to stage the drive-through festival has been a challenge. …

“Friends Rebecca Flashman and Debbie Moss, from Braunton, north Devon, arrived in an open-topped two-seater car with just enough room for a hamper packed with cucumber sandwiches and sparkling wine.

“ ‘We’re used to coming to open-air classical concerts,’ said Rebecca. ‘But we thought we’d give this a go.’

“Covid means, of course the festivalgoers cannot freely mingle but have to stay within boxes marked out with whitewash. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was warm and convivial.

“ ‘It felt surprisingly intimate,’ added Rebecca. “It’s wonderful to get out and do something cultural in these difficult times.’ …

Tobias Kennedy-Matthews, a local chimney sweep, had been given his ticket to the Harriott gig as a birthday present.

“He loved the chef’s tales about Ready Steady Cook and his culinary trips abroad. ‘It was brilliant. This is my first literary festival. I’ll definitely come again,’ he said.

“The festival founder, children’s author Nick Arnold, who lives in Appledore, said he had always been keen for the festival to be innovative. … ‘I always hoped that by coming up with new and exciting ideas we would attract attention.’

“Harriott had wondered how the audience would engage and how he would know if they had enjoyed his appearance. He needn’t have worried. He walked off not to the sound of applause but to the enthusiastic honking of car horns.”

More at the Guardian, here.

Photo: Jim Wileman/The Guardian
An interview and Q&A with the celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott opened a drive-by literary festival in England. Car horns told him it was a hit.

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Photo: Slung Low
The Slung Low theater group sorting out food parcels at their headquarters in Leeds, England.

Many companies and nonprofits around the world have been stepping up to meet new needs during the lockdown. This story is about an innovative UK theater delivering food to the hungry.

Ian Youngs reports at the BBC, “When you’re suddenly tasked with co-ordinating emergency food parcel deliveries to vulnerable local people during a pandemic, the ability to think creatively comes in useful. As artistic director of one of the UK’s most innovative theatre companies, Alan Lane is used to coming up with imaginative solutions.

“But they normally involve finding ways to stage epic community theatre shows, not making sure hundreds of people have the food and medicines they need in a lockdown.

” ‘Today we find ourselves with a Transit van full of crisps,’ he says on the phone from Leeds. … Yesterday we didn’t have any vegetables. And tomorrow we’re not going to have any eggs. So constantly I’m on the phone doing deals.

‘The other day, I swapped a load of tote bags that I got from the university for some face masks, which I split in half and swapped the other half for a lot of cream. …

“Six weeks ago, Lane and his company Slung Low were asked by Leeds City Council to co-ordinate the community response in Holbeck and Beeston, meaning any requests for help from the 10,000 households in the area have been passed to them.

“They are mainly from people needing food, but prescriptions need dropping off too, and they are often asked to just phone lonely people for a chat.

“Lane is in charge of around 90 volunteers, including some from the region’s other arts organisations — from Opera North and Yorkshire Sculpture Park to theatre company Red Ladder. …

“Managing them is not the only new role Lane has taken on during the pandemic. When not scrounging and delivering food, he has become a game show host, and a very entertaining one at that — appearing online every fortnight from Slung Low’s HQ to keep locals’ spirits up. …

“On top of that, he has launched an open-air art gallery, posting residents’ lockdown pictures on lampposts. And Slung Low has just made a short film — shot before coronavirus rewrote Lane’s job description — which went online on Friday.

” ‘We didn’t know this at the time, but having a short film to release at the moment is much better than having a play,’ he says.

“Except — he will be taking an enforced break from all that frenetic activity for a while. [A Covid-19 test] came back negative, but he has symptoms so is isolating and recovering. Others have stepped in to ensure Slung Low’s work goes on. …

“The connection with the local community is what sets Slung Low apart from other theatre companies and means it can adapt to doing things like delivering food during a crisis, Lane says.

“Other venues have been busy putting their shows online and continuing their education and outreach activities digitally, but Lane thinks they could be doing more with their facilities.

” ‘There are a lot of vans currently sat in the car parks of arts organisations because they couldn’t quite work out the insurance to get them doing food bank work,’ he says. … ‘We spend a lot of time talking about what we’re for at Slung Low. What we’re for is not putting on a show for people to pay for tickets.

” ‘[Putting on a show is] something we do quite a bit, and something that we can be quite good at on a good day. But it’s not what we’re for. And therefore, when you can’t do that, it doesn’t mean we stop.’ ” More at the BBC, here.

Although people in the arts may not be uniquely compassionate, they’re often among the first to demonstrate sensitivity to the needs of others. Still, gold stars for a city council that thought of asking for the theater’s help!

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Photo: Finnbarr Webster / Getty Images
The UK’s “Sturminster Newton Mill has stood on the banks of the River Stour in Dorset County since 1016,” writes the
Smithsonian. It was called up out of retirement to help feed the populace during the Covid-19 pandemic.

You’ve heard of old soldiers reenlisting to fight a war and medical people being called out of retirement to fight a pandemic.

In this story, we learn about a 1,000-year-old decommissioned mill in England that is rolling again. (Imagine being able to talk about 1,000 years ago! In this country, only indigenous people can do that.)

Cathy Free writes at the Washington Post, “Flour has been in high demand and short supply during the coronavirus pandemic. Imogen Bittner and Pete Loosmore knew they were in a unique position to help home bakers in southwest England by firing up a mill site that is more than 1,000 years old.

“So the two millers, who help run the Sturminster Newton Mill and the adjacent museum, decided in early April that it was time to dust off their aprons and go back to the grind.

“They cranked up the ancient machinery at the mill, which has been updated through the years but has been powered by a water turbine since 1904. In recent years, it has been used exclusively as a museum that churns out small ornamental bags of flour for visitors in the small town of Sturminster Newton in Dorset county.

‘When covid-19 struck, all of the local shops ran out of flour very quickly,’ said Loosmore, 79, a retired art teacher who has worked at the mill for 25 years. ‘We had a stock of good-quality milling wheat and the means and skills to grind it into flour, so we thought we could help.’

“In the past month, with the mill operating full-time in the agricultural town of 5,000 people, he estimates they have ground more than a ton of grain and bagged several hundred sacks of flour. The three-pound bags are sold at cost to a local grocer and baker, who then sell them, said Bittner, with all proceeds benefiting the mill’s upkeep.

“ ‘We’ve been inundated with requests to sell it online or in large quantities, but we are not a commercial business,’ said Bittner, 63, an artist who began learning the art of milling 18 months ago and plans to take over as supervisor when Loosmore retires next year.

“Bittner, who has traveled the world but now lives in the home in which she was born near the mill, said she has always been drawn to the historical structure along the River Stour.

“ ‘It’s been amazing to work alongside oak beams that have been inside the mill since the 14th century and which were probably [trees] growing locally in the 10th and 11th centuries,’ [Bittner] said. ‘Although there have been adaptations and changes, these gnarled old timbers still hold the roof in place.’ …

“Loosmore said the mill, which is managed by the Sturminster Newton Heritage Trust, is treasured by locals, who volunteer every year to bag flour for museum visitors and help with maintenance. …

The wooden water mill dates to 1016, he said, and is mentioned in agricultural records in the Domesday Book, a ‘survey’ of England and Wales written in 1086 by order of William the Conqueror. …

“[It’s] a building that has survived everything from war to the Black Death.

” ‘It’s just a wonderful historical attraction — we have details from abbey documents dating back to the 13th century naming some of the millers and describing their roles, rents and obligations,” said Bittner, adding that one miller in 1230 paid part of his rent in eels.’ ”

More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Filippo and Marianna
Nine-month old gerbils Pandoro and Tiramisù survey London’s newest art institution, the Gerbil Museum.

This cute story from London about two imaginative shut-ins and their pets makes me think of Beatrix Potter books. But which one in particular? Maybe The Tale of Two Bad Mice? What do you think?

Hrag Vartanian reports for Hyperallergic, “Pandoro and Tiramisù are not your ordinary gerbils. The London-based pair got a special surprise when their owners, Filippo and Marianna, created a miniature museum  just for them during the current COVID-19 quarantine. …

“Both Filippo and Marianna are art lovers, with one working in a local museum and the other as an artist and writer. The gerbils declined to comment.

“Hyperallergic: Tell us about your gerbils!

“Filippo and Marianna: They are 9-month-old brothers and their names are Pandoro and Tiramisù. Pandoro is tawny while Tiramisù is the taupe one.

“H: Have they demonstrated a love of art before?

“F&M: Not really, this was their first time in a museum. They much enjoyed the display and paid close attention to the quality of the gallery’s props. They can’t read, so the sign to advise the visitors to not chew [on the furniture] went completely unnoticed. Overall, it seemed to be a satisfying and engaging experience.

“H: How did you choose the paintings?

“F: Initially we wanted to select less famous paintings but in the end we thought it would have been funnier and more engaging to choose some of the best known works in art history. … Marianna is very good at painting and I couldn’t help but wonder how ‘The Kiss’ and “’Girl with a Pearl Earring’ could have looked with a gerbil twist. …

“H:  Did Pandoro and Tiramisù enjoy the opening of their private museum?

“F&M: Initially they explored the gallery space looking for clues about the rather eclectic selection of artworks. After a while, boredom and a certain love for disruptive gestures grew to a point they managed to start a performance by chewing the empty gallery assistant’s stool — an act that we were lucky enough to film. …

“H: Is this a complicated ploy to write off your gerbils on your taxes?

“F&M: Maybe yes, although they are not very expensive. As long as we have seeds and mini gallery assistants’ stools we are good.”

The blogger Bereaved Single Dad, also in England, frequently mentions gerbils. This is from 2019: “A couple of days back we set off for the pet shop to get a gerbil. A couple of hours later we had fallen for the story of the three inseparable brothers who they didn’t want to split up. … Happy Son. Confused Dad.

“Meet our three new faces. Cupid, Jeff and Hendrix. Unbelievably the house is already covered in wood chippings. Suspect I will need a bigger Hoover.”

The video of the museum-going gerbils is at Hyperallergic, here.

As the New Yorker magazine used to say in a bottom-of-the-column feature: “There’ll always be an England.”

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Photo: Robert Sansom
Employees at a small bookshop in England were inundated with orders last week after a day with no sales was reported on Twitter. Pictured here is John Westwood, one of the shop’s owners.

For better or worse, the thing about Twitter is it can reach a lot of people very fast. Some people reached by tweets are not so nice. In this story, though, kindly Twitter users decided to give strangers a helping hand. Of course, it helped that one person with millions of followers took an interest.

“After more than 100 years in business,” writes Cathy Free, “the Petersfield Bookshop in Hampshire County, England, had perhaps never seen a day quite like Jan. 14.

“For the first time that anyone could remember, the independent shop on Petersfield’s Chapel Street did not have a single sale, saddening bookseller Robert Sansom so deeply he decided to tweet about his ‘tumbleweed’ day.
‘Not a single book sold today. . . £0.00,’ he wrote. …

After closing up shop that day, Sansom, 48, went home, thinking the 102-year-old secondhand shop specializing in antique and collectible books might have to close permanently, he said.

“But overnight, something unexpected happened. Sansom’s tweet went viral and was retweeted by author Neil Gaiman to his 2.8 million followers, prompting thousands of people to inundate the shop’s website with orders.

“The worst day ever quickly turned into the best day ever, said Sansom, who works at the bookstore with owners Ann Westwood, her son, John Westwood, and sales clerk Barbara Kelsey.

‘‘ ‘Just reading the messages we have received has brought tears,’ he said. ‘This was a lightning strike. …

‘’We’re now actively looking for ways to pay it forward.’’

“For the past two weeks, Sansom, his co-workers and a small band of volunteers in Petersfield — population 14,372 — have spent 14 hours a day frantically filling hundreds of orders and mailing them to customers around the world. …

‘‘ ‘One lady, recently back home in the States after a UK holiday, sent us her leftover UK currency,’ he said. ‘One couple drove 460 miles, round trip, to visit us, and many drove at least an hour or two.’ …

“On the afternoon he tweeted about his lonely day, he said, a storm had swept into town, bringing steady rain and putting a damper on customers.

‘‘ ‘There wasn’t a single penny in the till — not a book was sold to a flesh-and-blood customer,’ he said. ‘Of course we have slow days — everyone does. But that particular week, the shop was facing one of its worse crises ever. Even on a slow day, we would expect to sell 20, 30, or 50 books. We were wondering if we would have to announce the closure of the shop by the end of the week.’ …

“Now that the shop has 21,000 Twitter followers, ‘We have a voice we didn’t have before,’’ Sansom added. ‘Please, go and find your local indie bookshops, new and secondhand, and buy real books from them. If you don’t, they will just close and disappear. … You won’t even notice to start with,’ he said, ‘and then you will. And it will be too late.’ ”

How lovely that the shop is looking for ways to “pay it forward”! I wonder what they will decide to do. Encouraging followers to shop at indie bookstores is a good place to start. Personally, I avoid Amazon for books, food (Whole Foods), and other items unless I have tried and failed to get the thing somewhere else. Too much power in one pair of hands.

Although I read this story in Boston’s Sunday Globe, the article originally appeared in the Washington Post. More here.

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