A wild slim alien


I dreamt I was a butterfly


Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.

– Zhuangzi (c.369 BC – c.286 BC), as translated by Lin Yutang. Speckled wood butterfly, Porlock, Somerset, August 2016 by awildslimalien.



come, butterfly
it’s late ―
we’ve miles to go together

– Matsuo Bashō, On Love and barley: haiku of Bashō. Painted lady butterfly, Hampshire, August 2016 by awildslimalien.

Leave a comment

A butterfly passes in front of me



A butterfly passes in front of me
And for the first time in the universe I notice
That butterflies don’t have colour or movement,
Just like flowers don’t have perfume or colour.
Colour is what has colour in a butterfly’s wings.
In a butterfly’s movement the movement is what moves.
Perfume is what has perfume in a flower’s perfume.
A butterfly is only a butterfly
And a flower is only a flower.

– Poem XL by Alberto Caeiro (heteronym of Fernando Pessoa), sourced from Fernando Pessoa: Alberto Caeiro: Complete Poems.

Peacock butterfly perching on buddleia, Norwich, August 2016 by awildslimalien.

Previous encounters with peacock butterflies are here and here.


Lunchtime caterpillars

Elephant hawk-moth caterpillar

I’m sure I’m not alone in finding binomial names beautiful.  While the peacock butterfly’s is the Greek-sounding Inachis io, the elephant hawk-moth’s is the more typically Latin-sounding Deilephila elpenor.

My daughter noticed them first, crawling up the stems of the fuchsia by the gate.  Three, no, four elephant hawk-moth caterpillars, monstrously magnificent, almost too large to be supported by the stems of the flowers.  We both went for our cameras.  Snapping them discomforted one sufficiently that it carried out its deterrent trick of retracting its head and trunk-like neck into its thorax, which consequently swells to enlarge those conspicuous eye-spots.

Elephant hawk-moth caterpillar

As well as rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium), elephant hawk-moth caterpillars are rather partial to fuchsia.  We left them to feast, reasoning that while the hardy fuchsia could probably cope with their nibbling, the caterpillars could not cope without it.

Possibly they are common-named as much for their excrement as their trunk-like neck; it looks like little logs of elephant dung, the kind that Chris Ofili used to use to prop up his paintings.  Returning the next day, we found plenty of it peppered around the fuchsia’s pot.

I had hoped to document their transformation, but I’m afraid there is a sad end to the story.  We won’t see them pupate or become fully-fledged pink-winged moths, because those conspicuous eye-spots weren’t enough to deter a local feline from playing with them as it might a mouse; and my daughter and I could not be there to defend the fuchsia night and day.  A case of caterpillars besieged and eaten by cat.

But here to finish is the best photo I could find of this beautiful moth from elsewhere (West Yorkshire, to be precise).  One day I hope one flutters by me, and by you too.


Photo of adult elephant hawkmoth by Rachel Lucie Johns.  Photos of elephant hawkmoth caterpillars by awildslimalien.

Leave a comment

Breakfast butterfly

Peacock butterfly

That’s a butterfly at breakfast time rather than one for breakfast, you understand. A peacock (Inachis io, and not the first to have featured in these pages) lighted on my arm and seemed happy with where it had landed, staying long enough for my daughter to grab my camera and shoot these pictures.  Settled magically in the crook of my arm for those minutes, the butterfly seemed a blessing, or perhaps a reminder or gift from a muse.

And then as I tried ever so slowly to sit down at the table so that my daughter might better capture it from above with the camera, it took fright and flight and was gone.

Peacock butterfly

Leave a comment

Stairways and singers of tales

Peter Burke Host 1996

System no. 19
Julian Wild System no. 19 2007

Danny Lane Stairway 2005

Singer of tales
Jon Isherwood Singer of tales 2010

Ace of diamonds III
Lynn Chadwick Ace of diamonds III 2004.  Both the larger and the smaller pieces of steel swing on pivots in the wind.

Exotic tree
Zadok Ben-David Exotic tree 2010

Picnic grove
David Brooks Picnic grove 2012

It pays to pray
Rose Finn-Kelsey It pays to pray 2001

Polar bear
Ellis O’Connell Polar bear 2008

Janus head
Peter Burke Janus head 1999

Eduardo Paolozzi London-Paris 2000

Alex Hartley Pavillion 2000.

All photographs taken at the Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood, West Sussex, June 2013.


Wild blubbery aliens

We heard about them from the man in the hut serving a huge old wind pump once used to drain the Broads; one of those people who vocalises everything they think. On the last day of the holiday we parked up again by the pump and walked in rain for nearly an hour to reach the spot on the coast he’d described. I don’t think my daughter really believed there would be that many. But then neither did I.

Grey seals

We breasted the dunes and looked down. From that distance, if you stumbled upon them without knowing they were there, you might think that they were rocks, because they blended in with those which form the groynes on this quickly eroding coast; and perhaps because they were lounging post-prandially, there wasn’t a lot of movement. 300 grey seals, actually a variety of colours, spread across four sections of beach. An amazing sight. Carefully we edged to within about ten metres. Any closer and they lumbered nearer to the swash.

Grey seals

Seals are strange creatures; fatty blobs on land, swift and true in water. Though the grey’s scientific name Halichoerus grypus translates as ‘Hooked-nosed sea pig’, there was something canine about them; they seemed both alert and inert at the same time. They didn’t make that ‘arf arf’ circus seal sound, instead producing more of a keening ‘oooo’, which I imagine translates as ‘mate, watch out for that slim, shifty camera-wielding biped at five o’clock from you’.

Greay seals

My previous sighting of seals in the wild consisted of a single bewhiskered pinniped swimming close to a jetty in St. Ives. I never dreamt of seeing 300 together so close to human habitation. My daughter was thrilled. For once, on a walk, we had delivered the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Grey seals


Sedate pudgy aliens

Having accomplished our errand, my daughter and I went to the nearby toyshop to acquire yet another alien.

These are not aliens like me.  These extraterrestrials are squidgy, rubbery, unnaturally coloured foetal babies with oversize foreheads and undersize limbs which typically come in eggs and covered in goo, though the eggs of some have a coating of bicarbonate of soda or similiar which dissolves when you put it in lukewarm water, so allowing you to ‘birth’ your alien.  They are my daughter’s latest favourite thing.   It makes me think she is so much her alien father’s child.  She named some after the planets but now she has used up the solar system, the names are becoming rather more random – Clockbutton for a small green and Rendigo for a large silver one.  Drawing on the fiction that populates these pages, I keep suggesting Skudun, Badezon, Slessi and Cintilar – but quite reasonably these fanciful-sounding names are consistently pooh-poohed.

We left the shop with the latest additions to the ever-extending alien family, and had immediately to cross a busy road.  My daughter held my hand and on the other side not only kept it held but started skipping too.  I felt and thought, treasure this moment, because – since she is growing up so fast – it just might be the last time ever that she holds your hand and skips happily down a street like this with you.

Children do this bittersweet thing to parents on a daily basis – touch your heart while simultaneously prompting you to mourn the fleeting nature of such joys.  But even in this, there is continuity.  Something new always comes along to make your heart sing, to make you wipe away a discreetly shed tear.

(This is the kind of post I swore I’d never write – parent gushing about child – but well, even aliens have children, and its alien content lets me off the hook, doesn’t it?)