Thursday, 17 May 2012

Untangle and wash Dolly's hair ~

A doll with tangled hair is a sad doll.  Her clothes are never going to look good and not even her brave painted smile is going to save her from increasing neglect.  With dolls much of their appeal is in their hair so it's important that it looks good.  

I've discovered that making it pretty again isn't difficult, just takes a little time.  What do I use?  Just what I use on my own hair - although not in quite the same way: warm water, shampoo, conditioner, an anti-frizz hair product and a fairly blunt-tipped comb!  In the photos below you can see the transformation:

I bought this doll for a few dollars at a local charity shop and yes, it's Barbie.  She has a sweet face but her hair was matted and dirty.  A hand basin filled with warm water was a good start and I gave her a good over-all clean.  

Once her hair was thoroughly wet I lathered it with loads of conditioner.  This made her hair nice and slippery which made it possible to loosen the tangled mass into parts.  In the photo below you can see I've already done a good deal of it but still a lot more to do.  I did use the comb but as little and as carefully as possible:

When I had finally got it properly untangled I shampooed it thoroughly and then massaged in the anti-frizz cream.  How different it looks!

After that I wrapped her in a hand towel and put her to bed in the hot water cupboard where her hair could get thoroughly dry.  That was yesterday.  This afternoon I gently combed her dry hair into curls and snipped off a few frayed hair ends.  In total the hair that came out or was snipped off would have sat comfortably in a dessert spoon, a very small amount.

Isn't she pretty!  All ready to be dressed up and enjoyed!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Water safety ~ the last word goes to Peter Blake, yachtsman

In the previous two articles about water safety I may have seemed to emphasise the risks inherent in watery environments.  The purpose of these cautions is to pass on what has given me confidence in my own potterings.  Once properly aware of risks and safety measures we can enjoy ourselves a whole lot more.

Yachtsman Peter Blake made a similar point in an interview I saw on television years ago: the interviewer quite understandably described long distance yacht racing as dangerous.  Rather to my surprise Peter calmly but firmly correcting him by saying "It's not dangerous, it's challenging".  If my memory serves me correctly he went on to explain that when you know what you're doing you can handle it.  It certainly looks dangerous to me but he had reason to know this, having taken on the world's toughest yachting challenges - and won.

Confidence in such challenges arises from knowing your environment, knowing the risks, knowing your own capabilities, knowing you can rely on the people around you and your gear, and being sure of your leader.  I'm sure this is true of many undertakings.  Peter's talk about leadership underlines some of these points.  The background music is annoying - and entirely superfluous - but his talk is really worthwhile:

Peter Blake's stature as an international yachtsman and leader was truly great; to New Zealanders he was a hero, straight up.   He was certainly a hero of mine, and remains so, for his shining leadership qualities.  I was disappointed not to find more about him on YouTube and other media.

This video excerpt from the television tribute "Blakey" - gives a further glimpse of him, and includes some dramatic footage of him yachting in freezing conditions in the far south.

Yachting is an excellent skill to have!  I'm no yachtie myself but admire the skill of others.  This video clip is entitled "Yachting in New Zealand":

And one last video link for a look at boatie challenges: 
This one is not for the faint-hearted.  Sorry, no embeds permitted for this one, so you'll have to venture into YouTube territory to see it.  It's a very well put-together bit of footage and soundtrack - awesome, in the truest sense of the word!  Now I'd call that dangerous!!!

You can find my other articles about exploring the beach and its rock pools via the link below: 

Know your tides and shoreline ~ the power of the sea!

~ This is my second article on water safety ~

When the tide comes in the sea churns though this area between the rocks.  It is a pleasant place to walk when the tide is out, but at this point there's no walking to be had, only rock climbing:

Even though we live close to the beach I like to know exactly what the tide is doing before setting off for a walk.  Depending on where the tide is, walks will be possible in some places and not in others.

The links below provide useful information about the sea and tides.  The one I use most often is the Tide graph on the Ocean Fun website.
Tides vary not only in time from one day to the next but also in their depth.  The degree of variation can be most surprising.  The tide charts listed above show these well.  They may not be exactly accurate for your area though.  We have found that ours is about fifteen minutes out, so we expect the lowest point of the tide to occur that much earlier.  We have also noticed that within that half hour there can be numbers of unexpected and restless surges, so it's a time to be especially careful and not take anything for granted.  Tide charts are great, but nothing takes the place of knowing your own stretch of shoreline well.  

Swells and surges may be influenced by wind, rain or the height of the tides themselves.  Sometimes it's hard to know what it is.  Swells turn into waves as they reach shore, and these are not even.  It's not unusual for two waves to come at once creating big, unexpected surges.

If you're climbing amongst seaweed, as Rewi was when this photo was taken, it's important to be well clear of fast-moving or rising water as it can be very hard to get out of when it's tugged about by the tide.  Rewi could have climbed up if he had had to. 

Rocks surrounded by water are likely to be more dangerous than those which are not, as water can wash around from both sides, creating a syncopated watery drag.  We both had an anxious five or so minutes when Rewi was exploring an unfamiliar rock further along our beach: he was out amongst heavy seaweed above his knees when the tide suddenly got deeper and, just when the water had ebbed from one side and it looked as if he could make his way back to the beach, it surged around from the other side. The seaweed really did have him strapped in around his legs.  The time before he got free probably seemed much longer than it was!  

Those of us who like to spend time climbing around rocks and rock pools need to be aware of all this so that we can stay safe.  I have a rule not to go clambering around near rocks by myself, much as I would like to: if I slipped or tripped and injured myself badly I might not be able to get help, and those sorts of things can happen to anyone.  It almost happened to me, when I skipped backwards from an unexpected wave, and tripped on a rock behind me and fell heavily.  Ouch!  Yes, I was on my own, so it was fortunate that I was able to get myself home and patched up.
These people needed rescuing and had very narrow escapes:

Big swells formed at sea by stormy weather batter the coastline.  They can shift immense amounts of sand, scouring it away from beaches and their rocks.  The rocky area pictured below can be fairly sandy and I've got used to seeing it that way:

But after a storm it can look very different.  That's Rewi standing on the far rocks sizing up the amount of water and seaweed.  His stick came in very handy for feeling down to the sandy bottom - appearances can be deceptive! 

Nearly halfway there:

But from the safety of my high vantage point I could see a big surge coming!  "Hurry!", I called out stupidly, which is the worst thing to do in this situation because if you lose your footing you're in very much greater danger!  Going slowly, even if the water comes in fairly deep, you have a better chance of staying steady and on your feet:

He had more sense than me and stood still!

Woow - deep and then deeper!

Then the water receded and Rewi waded out of the water laughing...  And I jumped down from my rock without getting my feet wet!

Here are a couple of images of these same rocks from high above, getting what I call the Deep Suds Wash from heavy seas at high tide:

These seas are immensely powerful, ripping heavy ropes of seaweed from their hold around the rocks:

The attachments that seaweeds use to fasten onto rocks are appropriately called holdfasts.  These can be really large as you can see by the size of my shadow on the rock next to this one:

Here you can see the firmness of the grip with which this one has held onto its rock: a sliver of rock and many small barnacles have come away with it:

Ropes of seaweed pile up on the beaches:

If we have also had rain, storm water and river water turn the tide brown, a mixture of silt and tannin.  Here are two photographs taken of the same spot a few days apart.  In the first one the water is clear, as it usually is:

And after heavy rain, you can see the difference:

The colouration is probably harmless, but the official advice is that it's best not to gather shellfish for three days after such weather.  After that they should be fine.

High tide coupled with heavy seas can lift logs as if they are weightless.  This is the only way this large log could have got up onto that rock.  I gave it a heave to test its stability.  I have fairly good upper body strength but I couldn't even wiggle it!

Some weeks later I saw that the sea had floated it off again.  As before it was immovable!

Any beach is always changing, even moment by moment.  For me this is fascinating.  I enjoy the stormy seas as well as the pools when they are tranquil:

And the turbulent seas that fill 'my' anemones with sand...

...also wash them clean again:

More information about tides is available here:  

Wikipedia says that:
Tides (from low-German 'tiet' = 'time') are the rise and fall of sea levels caused by the combined effects of the gravitational forces exerted by the Moon and the Sun and the rotation of the Earth. 
NASA has published wonderful and useful information on the subject.  
My favourite graphic can be seen here:

As requested by NASA's website, credit for this item goes to:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

You can find NASA's own page giving this and another longer graphic:
My first article about water safety is:
My later article as linked to below can be read as a cautionary tale!
You can find my other articles about exploring the beach and its rock pools via the link below: 

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Swimmers, know your beach ~ you can't argue with the sea!

 ~ This is the first of four articles about water safety ~

This sign is meant to be taken seriously:

The beach looks safe and peaceful, but it's not: serious rips can rapidly take swimmers out of their depth and keep them there.   

Earlier in the year I witnessed just such an incident: when the persistent noise of a helicopter was joined by a wail of a siren I hurried to the front window to see what was happening.  That window overlooks part of the beach.  I reached it just in time to see an ambulance turn in to the parking area, and watched the helicopter moving slowly back and forth above the water; the lifesaving club's zippy inflatable boat came into view soon after.  It was clear that some kind of rescue was under way.  

Less than an hour before I had seen two young women go to the water's edge looking all set for a cooling swim.  I thought then that this was not a good situation, but being some distance away and having other things to do I left them to it.  Later I found out that it was these two who had got into difficulties.  They had had a very lucky escape: they had been swept out to about 200 metres and been stuck there for over half an hour before emergency services were contacted.  One of them was able to swim back in but the other had to be pulled out of the water.  

All those people who went to their aid had been training for just these sorts of events, but what an expense it must have been: the financial expense alone must have been prodigious, let alone the time of those skilled volunteers who sprang to their aid - all a result of walking past that very clear sign which they either didn't see or didn't take seriously!

These people also had lucky escapes:
New Zealanders love the water, but drowning rates are high.  The Water Safety New Zealand website states that:
On average (last 5 years) 105 New Zealanders per annum have died by drowning.  New Zealand’s annual drowning toll is one of the worst in the developed world.  Water safety education is about saving lives, in, on and under the water...  ...Drowning is the third highest cause of unintentional death in New Zealand.
Learning to swim is an important life skill which not everyone has mastered, but even more important is learning to exercise sound good sense around water!  Even strong swimmers can get into difficulties.

Here the Life Savers await swimmers at Brighton Beach:

When they set out their gear there were no swimmers anywhere in sight, but they were watching and ready if needed.  

The local clubhouse displays this sign with simple but sound advice:
  • Swim between the flags
  • Listen to the lifeguards
  • Never swim alone.

These don't seem difficult or unreasonable, and could make all the difference between a happy outing and tragedy.

I often see the Life Savers practising their manoeuvres.  Here they are practising rescues in conjunction with a helicopter:

The lifesavers inflatable boat was out on the water with crew who jumped into the water one at a time and awaited rescue from the helicopter: a rescuer was winched down, picked up the person in the water, and was winched back up again.  Yes, that's two people hanging on below the chopper:

You can see how the wind from the chopper is roughening the water, so the lifesaving boat had to be well clear of that area.  The water was calm that evening, which was good for practising.  It can get very rough out there.  Rescues can be needed in any weather.

It's easy to take these services for granted.  Twice in this article the term 'lucky' has been used to describe those fortunate enough to be rescued from peril, but is it luck or good management that rescue services got there in time?  Probably a mixture of both.  We are profoundly fortunate that all these people have made a commitment to be there for others, that they are there at all!  From force of habit we expect them to be on hand, yet these services are composed of dedicated individuals and volunteers, and are funded by donations and sponsorships.  I encourage you to make your own contribution to their services if you can.  They might rescue someone you love, or they might even rescue you some day - you never know!

The Life Savers featured here are:
Their national body is:
The air rescue services listed below are all provided by Charitable Trusts:
All these people have my admiration and respect for their skill and dedication to the welfare of their fellow humans!

A bouquet must also be awarded to those who created the wonderful paintings on the toilet and changing room facilities next to the Brighton Surf Life Saving Clubrooms.  Aren't they fabulous!

My next article about water safety is about keeping an eye on the tides and may be helpful to fisher-folk and shellfish gatherers, as well as people like me who simply enjoy pottering about the inter-tidal rocks and pools.

You can find my other articles about exploring the beach and its rock pools via the link below: 

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Compost, potting mix and Legionnaire's Disease ~

Legionnaire's disease is relatively rare but it is serious and can be fatal.  It can be caused by the inhalation of dust or water vapour which carries legionella bacteria.  Fortunately these bacteria don't affect everyone but it is as well to be alert to the possibility.  These bacteria can live in many watery environments and if conditions are right they can breed and become problematic.

Common trouble spots are compost and potting mix and air conditioning cooling towers.  They may also be found in residential hot water cylinders, spa pools and even the water in windscreen cleaning containers in vehicles!  For this reason it's sensible to maintain recommended levels of hygiene and to handle compost with care.

I'm a keen gardener and love my compost heap but I am now much more careful about how I handle it than I used to be: our elderly neighbour, Walter, nearly died after inhaling legionella bacteria from freshly opened bags of compost. Swabs taken from empty bags and examined in a laboratory confirmed them as the source, so the warnings printed on such bags are meant to be taken seriously.

Once the harmful bacteria have been inhaled symptoms can take a week or so to manifest.

In the week after Walter composted his vegetable patch he developed what seemed to be a heavy cold which got steadily got worse.  Some ten days later when he was just about to leave home for a doctor's appointment he collapsed.  His wife shouted out to me to come over quick, and it was fortunate that I had the front door open and heard her.  I ran over to find him on the floor, still conscious but very hot and quite unable to get up.  He's a big man and we couldn't move him at all, so having tucked some cushions in behind him called the emergency services.

The fire people were the first to come as they were the emergency service closest to hand.  They were followed by the ambulance.  It was a singularly nerve-racking time and I was very relieved to see them and glad to relinquish responsibility.  They were marvellous: very strong, healthy and reassuring.  One of the firemen was sporting a black eye which he joked about with Walter, but although he responded with good humour he was very ill indeed and has no recollection of that time at all.

Once in hospital he was put into an induced coma and expectations of his survival were slight.  He was out cold for ten days hovering between this world and the next, but against all the odds he did pull through, regaining consciousness just when all hope was being given up, and gradually began on the long, slow road to recovery.  We were all astonished as we had been expecting the worst!  When he came home I told him how glad I was to see him as I'd been worrying about what I'd wear to his funeral!  I'm pleased to say that he found this amusing and we both had a good laugh, but was true enough all the same.

News items:
Walter's illness followed a very similar course to this man's:
Since then there has been an outbreak in Central Auckland.  The source of the bacteria can be difficult to locate as the bacteria can be blown up to six kilometres!
Autumn can be a time when infections of this sort crop up more often as people busy themselves with tidying up their gardens before winter.  In New Zealand this coincides with Easter. 
This Ministry of Health (NZ) publication gives detailed information about prevention:
The information conveyed by this web page is comprehensive and much of it is technical.  Fortunately it has a good index; unfortunately it has been placed in document form only, so the reader has to download it in order to read it.  For these reasons I quote two passages directly from this source (as their copyright permits) for easy reference:
The following excerpt relates to the safe handling of compost and potting mix: PreventionThere is no statutory requirement in New Zealand that potting mixes and other compost materials must have warning labels attached. This is because most manufacturers have volunteered to use an industry-agreed warning label (Figure 16) as recommended by NZS 4454: 2005 Composts, soil conditioners and mulches. To prevent Legionella infection from potting mix and other compost materials, people should take precautionary steps, including the following.
  • Open potting mix bags using scissors with care to avoid inhaling airborne potting mix, ie, slowly and away from the face.
  • Moisten the contents of the bag on opening, by making a small opening and insert a garden hose to dampen the potting mix.
  • Avoid potting-up plants in unventilated areas, such as enclosed greenhouses.
  • Wear gloves.
  • Avoid transferring potting mix from hand to mouth (eg, rubbing face with a soiled hand or glove).
  • Wear a face mask if handling soil, mulches, compost or potting mix indoors or in windy conditions.
  • Always wash hands after handling potting mix, even if gloves have been worn, as Legionella bacteria can remain on hands contaminated by potting mix for up to one hour.
  • Store potting mix in a cool place, away from the sun.
  • Keep soils and potting mix damp.
  • Avoid raising soil near evaporative coolers.
  • Water gardens and composts gently, using a low-pressure hose.
  • When handling bulk quantities of potting mixes or other soil products, follow procedures that minimise dust generation.
Face masks should be either P1 or P2 particulate masks, as specified in AS/NZS 1715: 2009: Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective equipment, or AS/NZS 1716: 2003: Respiratory protective devices. It is recommended good practice for retailers of potting mix and compost to also offer protective masks at point of sale. 
The following information from the same document relates to the storage of both hot and cold water:
6    Hot, warm and cold water systems
6.1 General
Summary control of temperature
  • The recommended temperature for storage and distribution of cold water, to prevent Legionella infection, is below 20 degrees Celsius.
  • Store hot water above 60 degrees Celsius.
  • Ensure hot water at the outlet of all sanitary fixtures used primarily for personal hygiene purposes is delivered at a temperature not exceeding:
    • 45°C for early childhood education centres, primary and secondary schools, nursing homes or similar facilities for young, sick, elderly and disabled people, institutions and hospitals
    • 55°C for other buildings.
Other informational links which may be of interest:

Monday, 7 May 2012

Catching up on a backlog of articles!

Dear Readers,
If you subscribe to this blog you may find articles popping up which have publication dates from some months in the past.  This is because they relate to things that have happened some time ago which I simply haven't previously had time to write up - they make more sense if placed close to the time they actually occurred.  

The one I've just published documents my stroll through the charming Memorial Gardens which lie hidden from view behind the Mosgiel Library.  Here is the link:
Happy reading,

Thursday, 3 May 2012

More about mussels ~

Obtaining this dramatic image prompted me to set down more of what I've learnt about mussels in the months since I wrote my earlier article "Mussel gathering and the joys of the local beach".  

Each time Rewi gathers mussels for a meal I carefully pick off the wildlife that inevitably comes home with them: limpets, chitons, anemones, barnacles, snails and seaweeds,  as well as the little crabs that sometimes hitch a ride either outside or inside the mussels themselves.  I set up one or two bowls on the kitchen table, fill them with seawater, and use them to house these little creatures until I can return them to their rock pools.  Sometimes I put live mussels in as well if there is too much other growth on them for me to easily pick it off.  The one pictured above was one of these.  I was delighted to see the byssus threads it produced overnight which anchor itself to the side of the ceramic bowl.  These can be seen clearly after I drained the bowl in order to fill it with fresh sea water.  The tuft of broken threads sticking out from between them is what it would have been attached to its rock face before it was harvested.  More about that later.  

Note that if you are setting up your own temporary aquariums you will need to change the water often.  I change mine three to four times a day. 

There are three to four major groupings of mussels that live on our stretch of beach here in South Otago:
Of the larger ones the most common are:
I'm not confident I could tell these apart as the ones collected are often so weathered that the green coating which distinguishes the green-lipped ones may have been eroded away or been overgrown.  The pair below is clearly the green-lipped variety.  The cone on the upper one is a vacated barnacle shell.  The ones we get here are usually about 12 cm in length.

The middle-sized mussels can grow up to 8 cm but are often smaller.  These are:
The little crabs nestling with it are pea crabs and were found inside two of the large mussels when they were shelled.  They are relatively common.
The little mussels, which grow to about 3 cm in length, often grow in abundance on rocks in the mid-tidal zone.  These are called:

What do mussels eat?
Mussels are described as bi-valve molluscs, which feed on plankton and other microscopic sea creatures which float about in seawater. These are too tiny for us to be able to see.  The mussels feed by drawing the water in through a siphon and filtering it for nourishment.  The NZ underwater life site says that adult mussels can filter up to 15 gallons of water a day, which must make them an important part our shoreline ecosystems.  Below you can see the same mussel pictured above, but re-immersed in seawater and open to feed:  

If you look closely at the near edge you can see the green edge of the upper shell and the pink inner lip which sits inside the lower shell.  The opening is perhaps a quarter of an inch in width, which is as wide as I've seen them.  Any wider and they would be more vulnerable to predators.  

Byssus thread is the means by which mussels anchor themselves to their chosen spot:
This very special substance is made by the secretion through the part of the mussel's anatomy described as its foot.  Byssus does not rot or distort in seawater, and in the time of the ancient Greeks was used in weaving!  You can read more about that in the Wikipedia article linked to here.  

I am delighted to be able to share with you a series of images of a number of mussels all at work in their shallow bowl of seawater:  
The foot looks like a long fleshy tube, which indeed it is.  When the mussel withdraws its foot it commonly leaves the thread attached to the surface.  In these photos however, the mussels  seem to use these 'feet' almost entirely for the purpose of moving about!  These images were taken within an hour of each other.  You can see that the green anemone on the tip of the large mussel shell also moved...

The small mussel at the left is clearly a ribbed mussel.  The one that is largely white may also be one, but as its shell is very worn I'm not sure.  The little ones I don't know either.  Since they came attached to the larger mussels I assume they are most likely to be juveniles of either of the others pictured. 

The large mussels are less mobile, I imagine due to their weight!  The one pictured at the top of the page was fairly active though, and spent much of its time rocking itself back and forth as it busily siphoned the water in which it lay. 

Here is another image which shows the point of byssus attachment particularly:

When mussels are prepared for eating the remaining tuft of byssus is removed from its source inside the shell.  Here is a plate of them:

They don't look like a very likely weaving fibre to me, but the Wikipedia article states that the usual source of byssus used for weaving, was the large Mediterranean pen shell, Pinna nobilis, which produces rather longer strands of it!

Mussel's beard is another thread-like substance often found on mussel shells.
It is a term commonly used for byssus threads but also often refers to exterior growth on the shell itself of something rather different.  The NZ Te Ara Encyclopedia says that:
Mussel’s beard is the light-brown hairy growth on mussels or tidal rocks and seaweeds. It is a colonial organism known as a hydroid, made up of chains of tiny polyps.  Some people confuse mussel’s beard with the threads (byssus threads) that attach mussels to rocks. These [byssus] threads are darker, feel like plastic, and grow from the interior of the mussel.
The Otago University's Marine Studies website identifies it more particularly as Amphisbetia minima

From the references I've looked up above it appears that this term of reference is used interchangeably by many people.  Here are two of my favourite images of wonderful exterior growth of mussel's beard:

Pea crabs, which you can also see in the image higher up the page, are the other hitch hiker associated with the larger mussels.  
It seems incredible that they live inside the mussel shells.   They are roly-poly little things and have very soft shells.  If their shell is broken they die very quickly.  Here is one which I put back in a rock pool.  How tiny it is!

And here it is in its pool - already almost invisible:

The mussel shells themselves are infinitely varied and adapt themselves to the environments in which they are lodged.  Here are some of the more unusual ones I've come across:
This one has been damaged resulting in a hole on its side:

Inside it has coated the hole with nacre:

This one has created a whole series of beautiful bumps, in response to some kind of intrusion into its environment:

The exterior of the same shell gives no clue as to what this may have been, but it does have an interesting attachment on its tip: another shell:

This pair is awkwardly shaped, probably from growing wedged in amongst others. The little orange spot is a closed anemone:

I passed this beautiful fragment on the beach - and left it there for the sea to enjoy...

Finally, for the sake of those readers who have not read previous articles, I'm a vegetarian, so the mussels consumed in this household are not eaten by me.  I say this so that it's clear that I'm not being inconsistent in my regard for and treatment of the sea life that comes into the house.  However, the regular harvesting of these handsome creatures has provided me with ample opportunity to observe all the inhabitants of the rocky pools and the inter-tidal zone of the nearby beach generally.  This has brought me a much pleasure - and greater knowledge of this fascinating part of our living world.

I hope you too enjoy it!

More useful links:
You can find my other articles about exploring the beach and its rock pools via the link below: