Egyptian Goose

Camera still broken, so here is an illustration I did over the weekend whilst getting rather burnt in the garden. It’s an Egyptian Goose, which are native to north Africa but can now be found every year in the wetlands of southeast England. They’re lovely little chaps with eyes like pharaohs, but in 2009 they were declared an official pest so please be kind to them!

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Apologies + a bear

Hello! I’d just like to apologise for the lack of posts over the last week and in the coming week or two. My camera lens is broken and I can’t take any photos, which is really annoying. The only camera I have is my iPad which, although a nifty camera when I’m on the go, isn’t amazing for detailed photos. I will be buying a new lens as soon as I get paid in two weeks, so in the meantime I will post a few wordy things and illustrations instead.

This is a brown bear I drew on request for the winner of my competition! I sold my cards on a stall a couple of weeks ago and held a prize draw for an illustration of the winner’s choice. The winner was Matt, who requested a big bear or a hare. I decided to go with the bear as I’ve never drawn one before!

Remember, I am selling cards and illustrations at the moment to raise money for my Masters, so if you would like to buy some just leave me a comment or send me an email! Or you can go straight to my fundraising page here. Thanks!

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Helping the Hogs

It’s Hedgehog Awareness Week!

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society organise this campaign every year in order to highlight the problems facing hedgehogs and to encourage people to help them. It’s very easy to make your gardens hog-friendly, and with hedgehog numbers declining it is more important than ever to support them.

To help share the hog-love, here is a list of things you can do to help hedgehogs survive through the seasons! I’ve illustrated them for extra clarification…

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Make a Hog Home

If you can’t afford to buy a taylor-made home, it’s easy to make your own! Leave a sheltered corner of your garden free for hedgehogs by gathering leaves and garden litter. Leave a few gaps under fences so that hedgehogs can travel safely between gardens.

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Glug your Slugs

Hedgehogs are excellent natural pest-controllers but slug-pellets can be fatal to them. If your slugs are really ruining the lettuces, leave dishes of beer out in the garden. These traps will attract pests, who will drink the beer and eventually drown in a drunken stupor. A kinder death and a safe hog meal.

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Food Glorious Food

You can supplement their natural diet of worms and beetles by putting out dishes of meat-based pet food, minced meat or crunchy cat biscuits. Contrary to belief, cow’s milk can be harmful to hedgehogs, but they will greatly appreciate a few shallow dishes of water dotted around the garden.

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Slow Down for Wildlife

Everyone has seen squashed hedgehogs on the side of the road, but these can be avoided simply by driving slowly and carefully. Look out for hogs crossing the road, and if it’s safe to stop, help them across by gently picking them up and placing them safely in the direction they were headed.

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Beware of Bonfires

Piles of leaf litter and compost in the garden are perfect homes for sleeping hedgehogs. If you are planning on burning your pile, try not to build it until the day. Otherwise, be sure to carefully move your pile away from its resting place to ensure hedgehogs wake up and scurry away.

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Ahoy there!

Hedgehogs love swimming, and may find themselves in ponds and streams. Make sure they are able to get out when they need to by providing ramps, half-submerged rocks or chicken wire for them to climb out onto the bank.

There is plenty more information on the BHPS website here. Compassionate celebs John ‘Boycie’ Challis and Hugh Warwick are among supporters of the Society. Please consider joining or donating to the BHPS here!

Beltain

May is here! Hoorah!

Each year, we welcome in the warmer months by going to Beltain Festival at Butser Ancient Farm in Hampshire. It’s one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals – along with Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasadh – and takes place half way between the spring equinox and summer solstice.

At Butser Ancient Farm they build a huge wicker man and burn him at dusk. Ancient Britons did this as a ritual to encourage healthy crops and protect the cattle, and sometimes they placed a human sacrifice inside to appease the spirits…

We had a fabulous time as always, and I sold my illustrated cards on a stall as part of my fundraising mission! The cider was delicious, the pigs were fat and merriment was enjoyed all round.

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Thoughts on The Sixth Extinction

‘A shell in the pit,’ said I, ‘if the worst comes to worst will kill them all.’
So some respectable dodo in the Mauritius might have lorded it in his nest, and discussed the arrival of that shipful of pitiless sailors in want of animal food.
‘We will peck them to death tomorrow, my dear.’
H G Wells, The War of the Worlds

Are you having one of those days where life is stressing you out? Are the neighbours painting your fence a nasty colour? Have Sainsbury’s stopped stocking your favourite cheese? Like you, I used to feel like my life was the most gargantuan melodrama in the universe. Then I read The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, and realised how significantly insignificant we really are.

The book d210302etails the intriguing paleontological history of our planet and the five great extinctions of its time. At various points in history, events have occurred that wiped out large proportions of the earth’s inhabitants. Although not all proven, theories for these include glacial periods, bacterial plagues and massive comets; all rather prominent disasters in the eyes of the poor creatures who were unfortunate enough to be there, like the dinosaurs. So what are they calling the Sixth Extinction? It must be something awfully disruptive to be grouped with comets and plagues..

Yes. You’ve guessed it. Humanity is shitting everything up.

Human activity has caused the extinction of between 20,000 to 2,000,000 species in the last century alone. The book delves further into this, explaining the surprising science behind coral bleaching, attempts to understand Amazonian ecology, and an incredibly sad record of the killing of the last pair of Great Auks in Iceland:

‘On catching sight of the humans, the birds tried to run, but they were too slow. Within minutes, the Icelanders had captured the auks and strangled them. The egg, they saw, had been cracked, presumably in the course of the chase, so they left it.’

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Kolbert’s views are, although truthful and necessary, extremely mournful. I expect she has spent so much time watching the damage caused by humanity that she has lost hope that we might yet change it, and I don’t blame her for that. However, there is a glimmer of hope that we may be able to reverse some of the destruction caused by our insatiable greed and senselessness (this is in the last chapter, right before she reminds us that one day everything we’ve ever created will be a layer of sediment). To be honest, I couldn’t allow myself to read this book without giving myself hope, because I don’t know how I’d get out of bed in the morning.

I went to a party in Norway in January and met somebody who worked for a large oil company. After swigging on my Cointreau and Fanta, I asked him for his honest opinion on humanity’s dependence on oil, and he told me that the vast majority of fossil fuels are used in industry and motoring. He made it quite clear that until the big businesses and conglomerates switch to renewable energy sources, we have no chance of reversing the damage. It’s up to them to set the example and make a difference, but unfortunately it’s quite tricky convincing those at the top to think longer term. If you please, Mr Moneypocket, you don’t need three Mercedes…

I highly recommend The Sixth Extinction for anyone interested in humanity’s complex relationship with the ecosystem. Aside from its rich descriptions and field notes from across the globe, it includes a fascinating and rather amusing account of the first paleontologists, and their outlandish theories on evolution and the origin of species.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History is published by Bloomsbury.

Celtic Farm

I’m very excited to reveal the next set of designs for my greetings cards! These illustrations were inspired by Butser Ancient Farm, the archeological farm near my home in Hampshire.

I chose four animals that would have been found on a British iron age farm:
– Eagle owl
– Moon-gazing hare
– Manx Laughton ram
– Massive pig

All my cards are available to buy directly from me! They are £5 for the set of four designs with envelopes, and all money is going towards my fundraising campaign! Follow the link to pay by PayPal, or you can email me at tiffany2.francis@gmail.com for more info. The postage is free and I am happy to send internationally too!

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Memories of Jamaica Inn

Despite everyone grumbling about the muffled Cornish accents, I thoroughly enjoyed the latest BBC adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. I finished the novel last summer and I was pleased with the show’s loyalty to the book. And after Lady Sybil was so cruelly removed from Downton, I was happy to see Jessica Brown Findlay’s cool little face once more.

I’ve treasured an eerie obsession with Jamaica Inn ever since I visited the moors of Bodmin when I was about 8. I don’t remember much about the trip; most of it has merged into other childhood memories of travels through Cornwall.

Nevertheless, I do remember the secluded inn all alone in the west country wilderness. It’s said to be one of the most haunted locations in Britain, built in 1750 as a coaching house for changing horses. Du Maurier wrote the classic tale in 1930, after she got lost on the moors when out riding her horse. She became swamped in fog and sought refuge at the inn, where she was entertained by the local rector with tales of ghosts and smugglers.

When I visited the inn, it was home to Walter Potter’s Museum of Curious Taxidermy. He was a famous Victorian amateur taxidermist, and arranged his stuffed animals into ‘amusing’ tableaux, such as ‘Kitten Wedding’ and ‘Monkey Riding a Goat’. As a child this was terrifying, and of all my childhood memories, this remains one of the most vivid. Being an amateur, the dead creatures often looked contorted and the result was fascinatingly horrible. Luckily, I remember my Dad assuring me that all the animals had died of natural causes..

To my morbid delight, Kate Mosse, author of Labyrinth, is publishing a new novel this Autumn called The Taxidermist’s Daughterinspired by her own childhood visits to the dreary exhibition (it was originally situated in Sussex where Potter lived). It’s a Gothic psychological thriller and I’m jolly excited!

I am determined to return to Jamaica Inn in the near future and see if it’s as terrifying as I remember. I’m planning to complete a literary tour of Britain, and I recommend the original novel for anybody who likes a grisly adventure tale!

Jamaica Inn is available on iPlayer here, and The Taxidermist’s Daughter will be published by Orion books on 11th September 2014.

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Disney: Love at First Sight?

After lots of dillydallying, I finally got around to watching Frozen at the weekend, the latest Disney film based on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale The Snow Queen. It is superbly funny with fabulous music and wonderfully crafted characters, and it has been praised for being one of the only Disney films where the heroine is not rescued by a man, but by the true love of her sister.

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Refreshingly, the film also acknowledges the stupidity of ‘falling in love’ with someone after knowing them for about five minutes, a plot point which has often featured in many Disney love stories. The Prince falls in love with Snow White after hearing her singing at a wishing well (I know from experience that a good singing voice does not guarantee sweetness of character). Even more disturbingly, Prince Eric falls in love with Ariel when she doesn’t even have a voice, and let’s just forget about the dancing scene in Sleeping Beauty..

So is there any hope for Disney-loving feminists? Yes there is! Here are four Disney heroines who aren’t immediately seduced by the first man they stumble upon:

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Belle Beauty and the Beast

After her father is captured by the Beast and locked in his castle, Belle steps forward to take his place as prisoner. Needless to say, she is hardly mad about the Beast until he proves his human side to her, and she realises he’s actually a pretty nice guy. At this point she develops Stockholm Syndrome and it all gets a bit Freudian.

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Jasmine – Aladdin

Bored by the countless suitors her father forces upon her, Jasmine is by no means gagging for it. When she first meets Prince Ali, she is put off by his arrogance and nobility. Eventually, she realises he’s just a humble street-rat and falls in love with his mischievous ways.

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Meg – Hercules

It’s only fair to point out that Meg has already had her heart broken by some tramp she sold her soul for, but the important thing is she learnt not to give in so easily again. It takes Hercules an awful lot of flattery and kindness to make her even speak to him, and eventually she realises he is worth endangering her life for. In the end he even sacrifices his own immortality just to be with her, which definitely shows commitment.

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Lady – Lady and the Tramp

When Lady first meets the Tramp, she is far too preoccupied with family issues to give him much consideration. It is only when she finds herself lost on the street that she sees how kind and caring he is, and they soon begin to fall in love over Italian cuisine. At the end they have tiny puppies because ladies, just because you want to have children doesn’t mean you’re a bad feminist.

Time for teapigs

The weather is finally starting to brighten up! The trees are blossoming and all the birds are singing merrily, and we can finally say farewell to rain and misery.

To welcome in the Spring in style, I have kindly been sent a delicious array of teas from the lovely people at teapigs! Famous for their ‘tea temples’, their tea is served as whole leaves, herbs and flowers enshrined in a biodegradable mesh pyramid, which allows the tea to float around freely and release all its sumptuous flavours. It’s the perfect way to enjoy loose leaf without the hassle!

With warm, sunny afternoons in mind, I chose four light teas that will compliment perfectly the months ahead. I also have four boxes to give away to one of my lovely readers, so scroll down to enter!

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One can never truly judge the quality of a tea brand without trying their basic breakfast. If you can’t get this right, there is little hope. Fortunately, the teapigs english breakfast is superb! It’s malty and rich without bitterness, and makes for the perfect morning cup. I like mine über milky with a hobnob.

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Working in an office full of grey drinkers, I brought this in for a team taste-test, much to everybody’s delight! I find the reason people don’t like earl grey usually is because the fragrant bergamot scent can be overpowering. This hybrid tea is a perfect solution, as the musky taste of Darjeeling offsets the perfume.

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Jasmine tea always reminds me of my first year at uni, living in halls next to the ‘oriental supermarket’, as it called itself. My friend and I used to drink it when we were feeling hideously hungover. These ‘pearls’ of tea unfurl into whole leaves when placed in water! Most pleasant.

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This fruity tea is an olfactory feast. It’s made of actual chunks of fruit, and smells like purple jelly babies. It’s also a great caffeine-free tea for when you’ve had a few too many coffees and you’re getting a bit twitchy. An antioxidant super tea!

Finally, I have four boxes of tea to give away to one of my lovely readers!

If you would like to win them, simply comment on this post with your twitter handle, email address and your favourite thing about Spring!
For an extra entry, you can also follow me on Twitter here.

The giveaway ends on Wednesday 30th April at 6pm, and I’ll email the winner after that time. I’m afraid this giveaway is open to UK residents only, sorry!

In the meantime, you can also get 10% off all teapigs products online with the discount code tiffanyimogen until the end of April. Hooray!

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Hoot hoot

I thought I’d share my latest illustration, which is a female Eurasian eagle owl.

If you like my illustrations, please consider donating to my MA fund and I will send you some of my greetings cards, even if you’re international! Hooray!

Click here for more info…

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