Monthly Archives: July 2014

Letting the train take the strain – Summer Holiday 2014

As I am on my summer holiday this is one of my lazy blogs; mainly pictures, no science and written in the hope of inspiring more people to give up flying and take the train instead. For those of you who don’t know I try to keep my time in the air to a minimum; years go by without me encasing myself in those uncomfortable sardine tins with the disconcerting habit of dropping several hundred feet every now and then. Yes, you guessed it; I hate flying, both on a personal level and also on an ecological level. Thus for the last twenty-five years or so have taken our car with us on holiday, and when possible, kept the carbon footprint as small as possible by putting the car on the train. In the old days this was remarkably easy, as French MotorRail ran a great service from Calais, but unfortunately that was axed a few years ago and this now means we have the choice of either driving to Paris to catch the AutoTrain from Bercy or driving across to Den Bosch in The Netherlands to catch the Autoslaap Trein. You can actually travel pretty much anywhere in the world by train and ferry; The Man in Seat Sixty-One is our personal hero, do check him out.
We left Bracknell at 1715 on Thursday 17th July to catch the car ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland. Due to the awful traffic around and in the vicinity of London, we didn’t arrive at Harwich until 2120 but despite that, got parked and into our cabin fairly quickly and in time for a late supper and glass of wine accompanied by a pretty good sunset as the ferry set sail.
Sunset Harwich

We had a very comfortable night (unlike our experience going to Bilbao eight years ago) and after a quick breakfast were able to start on our journey from Hook of Holland to Den Bosch, a drive of just over an hour. I drove the car on to the train and as we were first there apart from some motorcyclists, was at the front end of the transporter carriages.

Car on train

 

We then had a few hours of sight-seeing in Den Bosch in glorious sunshine before making our way back to the train and getting into our cabin, which came with hot and cold running water, two bunks and a complimentary glass of champagne courtesy of our stewardess.

Bedroom

We departed Den Bosch at 1315 and spent the next few hours travelling down through the Netherlands and on into Germany, much of it beside the Rhine which is very scenic at this time of the year.

 Along the Rhine compressed3  Along the Rhine compressed2  Along the Rhine compressed

At about 1745, we had a fifteen minute stop in Darmstadt, ostensibly to let us stretch our legs but as far as I could see it was really to let

Darmstadt station

the train staff indulge in a cigarette break! I did however mange to find a bit of nature on the platform although much to my disappointment,  it was not infested with aphids 😉

Darmstadt vegetation

For those train buffs among you here are the engines.  We were on our way again by 1800 and at 2030 we repaired (I find that travelling in style by train brings back the language style of a more relaxed age)

Engine

to the Dining Car for a very nice three course meal with a bottle red wine – very civilized indeed and so much more comfortable than flying 😉

  Dinner reservation Eating in style

We then retired to bed and despite the fact that we were rattling through the Alps at a fair old rate, slept very soundly until breakfast arrived at 0730 accompanied with a cup of coffee each.

Breakfast

 

Not quite as good as dinner but enough to keep us going as we hurtled through Italy.  By mid-morning we were running along the stunning Italian coastline and arrived at Livorno in blazing sunshine at lunchtime.

Italian coast Italian coast1 Italian coast2

The car was soon unloaded despite some problems with the motorcycles in front of which had been rather too securely attached to the train! We then set off on our drive to Castel Dell’Aquila in Umbria (incidentally the village features in a brief film Finding Marilyn in Castel Dell’Aquila).

It was as we were leaving Livorno that I had to make a choice between the two women in my life. Gill (Mrs (Dr) Leather) and Mrs Garmin (as we affectionately (?) call our SatNav) got into dispute.  Gill is great believer in navigating by the sun and as I was about to follow Mrs Garmin’s instruction on how to leave Livorno was told by Gill that it couldn’t possibly be right as we should be heading in the other direction – I couldn’t possibly say who was right but our estimated Mrs Garmin time of 1530 turned into an actual arrival time of 1820 😉 Still it was worth it

House front2 House front Holiday house

 

Post script

The villa comes with a kitten and also a dog!  Just as well that we don’t suffer from allergies 😉

Kitten  Dog

Post post script

And of course as well as reducing your carbon footprint, taking your own car means that you are able to bring back a lot of local produce, including the bottled variety 😉

 

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Not all aphids aggregate in clumps

There is a tendency for people when they do think of aphids, to see them as existing in large unsightly aggregations, oozing sticky honeydew, surrounded by their shed skins and living in positively slum-like conditions. The bird cherry-oat aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi, the black bean aphid, Aphis fabae, the Poa-feeding aphid, Utamphorophora humboldti and the beech wooly aphid, Phyllaphis fagi, being notable examples.

       Damage on bird cherry             Aphids on runner beans 2014           Office aphids compressed           Beech aphid

Whilst this may be true for many pest aphid species, it is far from true for the group as a whole. Yes they may occur in aggregations, but quite often, they look very neat and tidy and well-behaved.

Conker aphids 2013     Aphids on heath

Some aphid species lead quite solitary lives and you often only find them in ones and twos, if at all, e.g. Monaphis antennata.  There is one aphid species, however, that manages to have it both ways, living surrounded by its friends and relatives but managing to exist in splendid isolation at the same time. The exemplar of this phenomenon is the sycamore aphid, Drepanosiphum platanoidis, which exhibits a behaviour termed ‘spaced-out gregariousness’, a term coined by John Kennedy and colleagues in 1967, although the phenomenon was

sycamore aphids on leaf

described and measured by Tony Dixon a few years earlier. Effectively, the aphids like to be in a crowd but to have their own personal space. As proof of this, when the numbers of aphids on a leaf are low, say two to three, they will, instead of spreading out across the leaf, still show the same behaviour, i.e. get to within 2-3 millimetres distance of each other.

Sycamore compressed

Even more extraordinary is when a predator such as a ladybird or lacewing larvae finds its way on to a crowded leaf; the sycamore aphids do a great imitation of the parting of the Red Sea, but still without touching each other and keeping their regulation distance apart. Those finding themselves at the edge, either take wing or move to the upper surface of the leaf. Although a video of this exists somewhere I have been unable to find it so you will have to take my word for it. If anyone does come across the footage please let me know.

Yet another reason to love aphids.

 

References

Dixon, A.F.G. (1963) Reproductive activity of the sycamore aphid, Drepanosiphum platanoides (Schr) (Hemiptera, Aphididae). Journal of Animal Ecology, 32, 33-48.

Kennedy, J.S., Crawley, L., & McLaren, A.D. (1967) Spaced-out gregariousness in sycamore aphids Drepanosiphum platanoides (Schrank) (Hemiptera, Callaphididae). Journal of Animal Ecology, 36, 147-170.

Post script 

You may have noticed that the two references cited spell the species name of the sycamore aphid as platanoides,  It is in fact correctly spelt platanoidis.  To their embarrassment both John Kennedy and Tony Dixon got it wrong.  It wasn’t until 1978, when a very brave (possibly helped by conference alcohol consumption) PhD student (David Mercer) of Tony Dixon’s pointed this out, that the error was noticed and corrected 😉

Reference

Mercer, D.R. (1979) Flight Behaviour of the Sycamore Aphid, Drepanosiphum platanoidis Schr.   Ph.D Thesis, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK.

 

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