Destroying angels and funeral bells


WHEN we lived in the south London suburbs, at this time of year there were fungi all over the place – puffballs, fly agaric (the pretty but toxic red toadstools with white spots), massive bracket fungus on trees, fairy rings in lawns and many more.

Here in Lancashire there seem to be very few fungi of any kind. However last week a couple of clumps appeared overnight in the field at the back of us. (I tried to take a picture but they are too far away.) They look like mushrooms from here, but I would not dare pick them to eat. It seems to me that for every edible mushroom there is a deadly poisonous one that is very nearly identical.  (Incidentally there is no clear definition of either mushroom or toadstool.)

The Woodland Trust lists the eight most poisonous mushrooms in the UK, and adds this amusing piece of advice: ‘The worst have sinister names such as death cap, destroying angel and funeral bell – a warning to steer clear.’  Snag is, they don’t grow with labels on them.

The first on the list is deadly webcap (Cortinarius rubellus). This is the one that nearly killed the Horse Whisperer author Nicholas Evans. In 2008, while visiting his wife’s relatives in Morayshire, he picked mushrooms believing they were ceps, below,

when they were deadly webcaps, below.

Evans cooked them in butter with parsley, and the four adults in the group ate them. (Evans said later that they didn’t taste all that good but they had second helpings anyway). Next day they were all violently ill and ended up on permanent dialysis. He and his wife subsequently had kidney transplants. (He died last year from a heart attack, aged 72.) You can read a full account here

Actually I now recall picking field mushrooms in the Lake District a long time ago. I went to the library in Ambleside and studied pictures in a book and concluded that they were fine to eat. Had them fried – they should have been delicious but I was so worried that I might have made a mistake that I didn’t enjoy them at all.

The Woodland Trust guide is interesting and has lovely pictures. It warns that ‘you should never eat or touch any fungus based on information from this blog’.

Tempting as our nearby mushrooms look, I will be sticking to the ones that come in plastic wrapping in the supermarket.


AN EMAIL arrived last week from Lancashire Fire and Rescue announcing a charity Bonfire Night – with quiet fireworks. It said: ‘These special fireworks give a beautiful display with lights and colours, but avoid the big explosions you get with traditional fireworks. We’ve chosen to use quieter products for a few different reasons; they are more family-friendly, and much kinder to animals who are scared by loud bangs. Quiet fireworks are also more considerate of our veteran community as well as those with sensory issues, anxiety, and other medical conditions.’

What a brilliant idea! Many if not most dogs are terrified by loud bangs (I don’t know about cats) and I don’t suppose wild animals and livestock are keen either. I cannot understand the taste for explosions. I don’t know whether you would call fireworks pretty or beautiful, but either way I can’t see how they are enhanced by the blast of cannon shells. We have a wedding venue nearby and some nights it is like the Western Front. On New Year’s Eve the racket goes on for at least an hour – and this is in a village. Goodness knows what it is like in a town.


Sheep of the Week

TO QUALIFY as a Sheep of the Week the breed has to be kept in Britain, so I was delighted to find that there are some of these wonderful Racka sheep here.

The breed originated centuries ago in Hungary, where it was once the most common variety. It is a small to medium, hardy, multi-purpose breed used for milking, wool and meat.

The Racka Sheep Society says: ‘The peculiar horn shape is the result of the interaction between the length-growth and circular-growth genes: the dominant nature of the length-growth gene in the Racka results in the long, spiral horn. If these two kinds of growth were to be balanced (i.e. one were not dominant), the sheep would develop horns similar to those seen in breeds such as the Dorset Horn, Black Welsh Mountain, and the presumed ancestor of the Racka: the Argali. If this type of horn is present in the Racka its conformation is incorrect and considered a fault.’

There are two colours: cream-white and black. Lambs of the cream variety are born with a yellowish to dark-brown fleece, becoming lighter as they grow, while their legs and head remain light brown. The fleece of black lambs turns grey at the ends as the animal ages. The adult fleece is coarse and curly, and near the body it becomes matted and felted. This means the animals are particularly weatherproof and resistant to heat, cold, rain, snow and sandstorms.

Wikipedia says: ‘The breed’s . . . quiet disposition makes it a desirable animal for hobbyists.’ I hope would-be owners check with the Racka Sheep Society, which says: ‘The breed is characterised by vitality and liveliness. Racka sheep are very sensitive to external influences such as stress or noise and can be extremely shy. They tend to be nervous, which is why they are difficult to catch outdoors.’ There are lots of good photos and more information on their website here. 

Here is a video with much better music than usual.

Wheels of the Week

ABOUT 20 years ago it seemed that just about every other car on the road was a PT Cruiser. Now you hardly ever see one. This may be because it acquired a reputation as one of the worst cars ever made, if not THE worst.

Launched by Chrysler in the US in April 2000, the PT Cruiser was part of the nostalgia wave that included models such as the Volkswagen New Beetle and the BMW Mini. It was loosely based on 1930s models such as the Chrysler Airflow, below. It was manufactured in Mexico and Austria.

It was an instant success, and waiting lists of nearly a year led to some PTs changing hands at twice their original selling price of around $18,000. By 2006 a million had been made. But according to this video, it was not good to drive, with various mechanical issues (‘when you see the dashboard flexing, it doesn’t fill you with confidence’) and the retro look soon went out of fashion.

Despite numerous special editions, in 2009 only 18,000 were sold and in 2010, the last year of production, sales were just 9,400.

If you still fancy one, they are available second-hand from under £2,000 – this listing has 11 on offer. 

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