Friday, 11 April 2014



Many plants and animals have been given names that conjure up funny images.  When I go out to the garden and see the Runner Beans with their tendrils that run along bamboo poles my thoughts wander to comic images of vegitables running races on little legs. 

The common names of plants and animals are bursting with examples like this.  I have taken fifty such names and translated them into pictures.   You may never have heard of some of the species I have chosen to illustrate, for instance do you know about the the Long Nosed Cattle Louse?  From photographs I can see that this common parasite is a brown, ugly and disgusting creature, but the name conjures up an altogether cuter more appealing little animal.

Another disgusting parasite I would prefer not to see in real life is the Tapeworm, but my imagined tapeworm smells of cotton and would be at home in a sewing basket

Amongst the many interesting plants and animals I came across none was more strange than The Vampire Squid from Hell 

Vampyroteuthis infernalis

This fascinating creature lives in the darkness of deep water.  Along it's limbs are bioluminescent white discs that it can switch on or off.   When threatened it ejects a sticky cloud of  bioluminescent mucus containing innumerable orbs of blue light.  These floating coloured orbs distract potential enemies long enough for the squid to switch off it's lights and escape to hid in it's coffin.

Bugs and Pests provide endless opportunities for fun.  There are the Fruit Flies

and Carrot Flies

and Horse Flies that bite us in the summer

Another nasty biting insect is the Bed Bug

Not everyone has heard of the aptly named Robber or Assasin Flies.

If their name conjures up thoughts of insect bank raids and murderous attacks on the innocent.........then you are not far off the mark.  These nasty little beasties ambush other insects, sometimes in mid flight, and stab their victims with a knife like proboscis through which they inject a poison.  The poison is an enzyme that paralyses the victim and liquefies the insides into a semi digested soup which the fly then sucks back up.

Weevils, with their long noses, are charming to look at.  But many species of weevils ruin crops, like the Carrot Weevil which is a big pest in North America.

There are of course some very beautiful insects that are beneficial to us  Think of the Peacock butterfly with its gorgeous eyed wings.  The caterpillars feed on stinging nettles.

and the name caterpillar lends itself to parady

The furry Caterpillars of Garden Tiger Moth are called Wooly Bears.  So far I have only drawn the adult version of this insect

Another beautiful insect with eyed wings is the Eyed Hawkmoth.   There are other hawk moths with wonderful names: The Elephant Hawkmoth which has caterpillars that look like little elephants.  

Moths have such wonderfully imaginative names; there are Old Ladies, Puss Moths, Mouse Moths and Magpie Moths

The Dragonfly: How can a dragon be a fly?  By being extra small and having very delicate wings of course.

and perhaps the dragon flies are there to protect the even smaller Damsel Flies?

Then there are many species of  Cuckoo Bumble Bees which get their name fromtheir habit of laying their eggs in the nests of other bees

We have all heard of Stag and Rhinoceros Beetles

Another insect to make it into my top 50 was the Gooseberry Sawfly

 Which reminded me that the name Gooseberry was opportunity for more fun

By the Waters Edge you will find Bull frogs and Bullrushes

and if you hear the sound of snoring look out for the Snoring Puddle Frog

I am sure you have heard of Cat Fish

but how about The Black Eared Cat Birds from Queensland Australia whose calls resemble the mewing of catsThey would have to fly to California if they wanted to catch Mouse Birds!

Again birds are a rich source of names.   This is the African Fish Eagle

And this is a bird you might find in an Office; The Secretary Bird

in Africa you would find Zebra Finches

if you live in Britain and look out of your window you might see a Cock Robin

 but you would never find Cardinal Finches in Rome because they live in North America

or Turtle Doves in the sea because they cannot swim

In the sea you find sea animals like Lions, Giraffs and Cows, well Sea Cows

 and Sea Lions

and Giraffe Seahorses

and hairy old hermits who are a bit grumpy

The Hairy Hermit Crab

with their spotted dogs

as you stand on the beach and look up you will see the sky you is full of flying fish

and when you go for a swim you will see Eagles and Butterflies gliding effortlessly through the water

In Turkey the Dogs fly

and on the Galapagos Islands there are Elephants

Your garden is a dangerous place to go.  Did you know that Hooded Crows are often called Hoodies, and a group of Hoodies is called "a murder"

also in your garden you have Dandy Lions with fluffy yellow manes and cravats

in America you might see flying pigs

at the Garden Centre you can buy White Egrets on Stalks

or Swans flowers with their beautifully arched white necks

and scented Bee Orchids

you will know all the World has gone batty when you look up and see a flying bulldog.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Beautiful Budapest

A Walk Across Beautiful Budapest

Who are the Hungarians?  During this visit, my fifth to Beautiful Budapest, I have tried to grapple with this question.

My apartment (£300 per week for a couple, £500 for four - book here) was on the flat side of the Danube, placed somewhere between the Basilica and the luxurious Gresham hotel (£300 per night).  In this picture, made from the hilly "Buda" side of the Danube, you can see the Basilica through a gap in the buildings.  The sumptuous Gresham hotel is to the Left of the Chain bridge.  The flat I loaned from friends is somewhere behind this sumptuous hotel

Before they built the Chain bridge people believed it would be impossible ever to connect the older hilltop city of Buda with the newer residential flat lands of Pest. With the arrival of the industrial revolution a suspension bridge, very like the Welsh Menai Bridge, was finally constructed by Scottish engineers, thus in 1849 Buda and Pest became merged into a single city named Budapest.  For the next 70 years, up until the first World war, the city went on expanding under the patronage of the Hapsburgs.

It was a golden age because a Habsburg Empress of Austria and queen of Hungary called Elizabeth loved the Hungarians and would refer to Budapest as being Vienna's  "little sister".  This all came to an end after the Hungarians were punished for being on the wrong side of two World wars, for much of the rest of the 20th century their city and culture laboured under the yolk of Communist rule.  Their middle classes were smashed and much of their territory was, and remains, confiscated, but they have had one piece of real luck; the structure and integrity of Budapest was preserved.  After the lifting of the iron curtain the Hungarians inherited a smaller country with a run down capital that is un spoiled and amongst the most beautiful cities in Europe.  All they needed to do was renovate what was already there, and now at last the city is filling up again with well off fun loving cosmopolitans and a new outward looking middle class.  

Today we will walk across the newer Pest side of the city amongst buildings made between 1800 - 1920 which were the golden years of the Austrian Hungarian Empire.  After walking  to the end of the Gresham we turn left, away from the delights of the palaces, galleries and castles of the old hilltop city Buda, and towards the St Stephens Basilica which looks a bit like St Paul's in London. But before doing it is worth looking at this beautiful view across the Danube.

The old hilltop city of Buda

Our backs are protected by the spreading wings of the Turul bird who looks down at us from his perch high up on Buda hill next to the Presidential offices.

Turul holds the sword of Attila in it's talons

In about 600AD, the Magyar tribe who considered themselves the descendants of the Huns, lived in central Russia.  Legend has it that they were called by the sacred Turul bird to return to the land of Attila. One part of the tribe went North and settled in Finland where the became the Finns who speak a language connected to Hungarian, the other part were led by the Turul to the spot in Hungary where they believed the great warrior king Attila the Hun had settled his capital 400 years earlier.   The Hungarians still half remember their links to the world-crushing Huns, for instance my taxi driver is called Attila.

We are now walking towards the Basilica, in summer this is my favourite spot to draw all the beautiful girls who  sit on the cool white stairs of the Basilica,

Girl on the steps the white steps of the Basilica (summer 2012)

or groups of  young people who sun themselves at coffee and wine bars around the wide open space of the square in front of the great church.   

There is fun modern sculpture of an overweight soldier who looks on to the square and reminds tourists of the sort of people who built and lived in Pest in the late nineteenth century. 

This man might have witnessed the construction of the beautiful Roman Catholic St Stephen's Basilica which was built between 1860 - 1905.  So much was happening in his city he must have thought the Austrian Hungarian Empire would never end

 St Stephen's Basilica 1905
An even larger building completed a year earlier is the nearby Parliament buildings which were constructed 1885 - 1905.

 The Parliament Building 1873 - The biggest neoclassic building in Pest

So much of this reminds me of London, but to our plump Hungarian soldier his city must of seemed to be making a statement about ultra fashionable modernity where all the best features of older European capitals had been collected together.  This point of view can be seen in the Art Nouveau street furniture which is quite unlike London's.

These are the tall lamps that light the Basilica Square

I found this confection in a nearby square

And this one in Buda

Passing St Stephen's we find ourselves at one end of the Avenue Andrassy.  The buildings have the proportions of Regents Street and is lined with similarly expensive shops.   At the far end of Andrassy is Heroes Square, National Art Collections, City Park and Budapest Zoo.  Along the way we pass the State Opera House built in 1884 where Gustave Mahler was resident conductor in 1888 - 1891 and which compares in opulence to the Paris Opera. 

For such a small Nation the Hungarians have produced many great composers; Franz Liszt,   Bela Bartok   Gyorgy Ligeti  Zoltan Kodaly, the list of performers is endless.  Further along the Andrassy we come to Kodaly Square where Kodaly lived and there is a Kodaly museum.  Budapest also has the famous List Academy

 Milkos Zrinski (1620–1664)
Croatian and Hungarian military leader, statesman and poet

The Square has four sculptures, this is one I particularly liked.  Notice the fallen warriors at Zrinkis Milkos' feet.  Ironically Zrinki died on the tusks of a wounded boar in a hunting accident.

This is another sculpture I chose to draw along the way.  There were too many to choose from or learn about.

Jokai (1824 - 1904)

As we reach the far end of Avenue Andrassy, which is 2 km long, the houses become grander and more ornate.  

many had railings with this pretty Art Nouveau pattern 
The most impressive sculptures are in Heroes Square which was built to celebrate 1000 years of the Hungarian State.  This column is surrounded by warrior horsemen in one of the most well organised sculptural arrangements I have ever seen.  The horsemen are the 7 Hungarian chieftains of the Magya led by prince Árpád who arrived in the "city of Attila" in the ninth century.  The Square is romantic and absolutely gorgeous.

At the top of the column us an angel carrying a crown and cross.  

The 14 great kings of Hungary are arranged on either side in a colonnaded semi circle.  On the perimeter of the square are palaces of the Arts and City Park.

City Park brings us back down to earth.  It is pretty with boating ponds against backdrops of elegant building.  There are ducks for children to feed and the whole scene reminds me of St James Park.  Ordinary Hungarians are enjoying the early Spring sunshine.

These three contrasting chaps were watching an amateur football match.
Mothers were there with there pushchairs

these three Hungarian  mothers, Bridgtta, Lena and Tundi, were gossiping

Bridgtta, Lena and Tundi

 whilst keeping an ever watchful eye on their todlers in a play area

one of whom was chasing pigeons

These two girls were wrapped in conversation as they walked by

and these lovers were sitting on a nearby bench

Budapest Zoo is on one edge of City Park. £10 gains you access to an extensive collection of animals and lunch cost me £4.  The canteen was a good place to draw children

This is Lulu, who was a perky in her zebra trousers.  She was on a day out with her silky friend and her grandmother. 

and this is a little boy at another table

I spent many hours drawing the animals, especially the birds.  There were cormorants nesting in the trees.

and a badger like being led round the park on a lead

I especially enjoyed drawing the Squirrel Monkeys

and the children feeding the goats and Llamas

There were too many animals to draw, so I will end with one more; a kangaroo

and I have too many drawings to show you.  If you would like to see the others please visit my facebook page.

If you visit Budapest please try this Italian Restaurant - their Italian food is the best I have found anywhere.