New things and routine journeys to Liverpool

At the end of a busy week I had to travel to Liverpool on Thursday and Friday. On Thursday I drove to Aintree Racecourse to deliver a lecture to GPs and mental health workers with one of my colleagues. I have given lectures in many different venues over the years including a football stadium (which was quite amusing as I have never been to a football match in my life) and Birmingham City Council House but never at a racecourse. Fortunately there were no horses and I did not have to wear an amazing hat as the racing season does not start until April. On the way I saw the ‘Pies Music’ slogan on a bridge at the north end of the M57 which complements those seen regularly on the M6. The lecture had to be delivered twice, once in the early afternoon and then again in the evening. The first session was disrupted by a fire-alarm and we had to evacuate and stand in the rain before they decided it was a false alarm and we could start again.

Aintree racecourse (1 of 1)

In between sessions we escaped to a colleague’s 18th century cottage in nearby Aintree village, tucked away off the A59 behind all the 1930s houses. The old Saxon settlement took its name from ‘one tree’ or a ‘tree standing alone’ sometime in the 12th century but the locals attribute the name to a much more recent tree which was felled in 2004. It was very interesting to learn about the history of the area from my colleague. On Friday morning I had a very wet start travelling by train to the city centre and walking to the hospital, a very familiar journey. On the train I was still reading Ian Frazier’s book ‘Great Plains’ and was interested to discover that the iconic plant of the plains, tumbleweed, was introduced from Russia with settlers in the 19th century. It has various names including Russian cactus, thistle, saltwort, prickly glasswort and wind witch. Presumably it also blows around on the Russian steppes. After chairing a meeting at the hospital, I could escape and on the way back to the station, visited one of my favourite bookshops in the city, Reids. It is the only remaining Georgian building in the city which has a business on the ground floor and proprietor’s living accommodation above. Most buildings have been divided up but not this one. The proprietor sits in the middle of the shop next to an open fire and I always find something of interest in here. This time it was a book about Istanbul, one of the cities to visit in the future.

Reids bookshop (1 of 1)

Flowers by the tracks

Sitting on a train always brings out the botanist in me. Today I had to go to the hospital for some training in the afternoon so I was a little more alert than when on the usual early morning journey. It reminded me of four years ago when we took the Indian Pacific train from Perth to Sydney, crossing the Nullarbor Desert. My colleagues at the conference I was attending in Fremantle said ‘it’ll get more interesting after Adelaide’, assuming that nobody could be interested in the desert. However, the previous winter had been unusually wet and the Nullarbor was much greener than usual. Some information on the train said it had over 700 different plant species but flying past them at speed did not help to distinguish between them. My train today was a little slower and the plants were familiar. In urban areas the buddleia was in full flower, the stony edge of the railway being similar to its native mountain habitat in China and Tibet. Some say its success has helped the butterfly population. In the city, it had colonised a lot and derelict buildings near Lime Street. Away from the towns, Rosebay Willow-Herb was prominent. It is hard to believe that it was a scarce woodland plant in the 18 and 19th centuries. My family always called it the ‘Railway Flower’ as my grandfather was a locomotive engineer and it is known as ‘Fireweed’ in North America. It has an amazing ability to colonise sites cleared by fire, bombs, felled woodland and along the railway where seed dispersal is assisted by the slipstream of trains.

Willowherb, Rosebay (Chamerion angustifolium) Old Fosse Sapcote SP 4923 9239 (taken 23.6.2006..

It was accompanied today by Oxford Ragwort and Bindweed. I also spotted a rowan tree full of berries. My large rowan tree came down in a storm last year so the jelly made with last year’s berries might be the last for a while. I have two much smaller rowans but they produce very few berries so far. Neither are at the gate which is where they were traditionally planted in Scotland to protect the house from witches.