Monday 18 May 2020

Crazed Runes and Sheep

The cobalt blue edging tiles being installed in the housekeeper's room have an extraordinary property: they sing. When handled they make an occasional tinkle, that sounds like a far-away fairy bell. 

However, they also made this sound after I had initially attached them to the wall, and this is how I first became away of the phenomenon and assumed that the tiles must be coming off the wall somehow. It was worrying. It was then I noticed they also made this sound when first taken out of their box. I was relieved and enchanted. My tiling was not at fault - hurrah! The tiles have a life and indeed a singing career of their own.

I summoned my builders and a friend to witness this prodigy of physics for themselves. One friend thinks it is a property of terracotta, as her terracotta plant pots sing in a similar fashion, and the tiles are indeed unusually made from a red earthenware. I suspected the noise is related to the properties of the glaze - perhaps differential expansion?

This was weird enough, but yesterday I started wiping away the thin film of grout that is left behind following the grouting. If I had wiped too firmly I would have seen nothing, but a gentle wipe reveal runish glyphs on the surface of the edging tile, which are presumably ultra-thin cracks in the glazing. Are these cracks responsible for the singing?

Now the tiles were using the written form to communicate with me. We distinguish between natural and man-made phenomena all the time: it is part of being human. However, there is something deeply unsettling when we see something that betrays a human hand, when no human could have been involved.

This first tile writes in Norse runes:

runic crazing in glazing

This second tile writes in Roman numerals:

Roman numeral crazing in gazing

Lock down makes us do things we have always thought about doing but never get around to. Anyhow, while touring castles on the west coast of Scotland with my friend Andrew, I spotted a shrub with vivid red flowers, growing in gardens all over the place. It was showy and above all it must be hardy to thrive in these exposed gardens: just the plant needed at Balintore Castle, I concluded, where gardening effort is minimal so return on investment must be great. 

I contacted a gardener friend, Paul, recently to identify the shrub. He immediately came up with the name Pieris, and googling revealed that I had most likely seen the "Forest Flame" cultivar which is described as a "show stopper". I had mistaken the bright red young leaves for flowers, but had correctly thought the shrub a bit Azalea like. The Pieris and Azalea are related. Paul indicated that rabbits hate it. As rabbits decimated my herb garden last year, I placed my order pronto. This was war.

the dream - the Pieris I aspire to

On Saturday morning early, I planted out all 6 baby shrubs. The ground is so hard I had to use a crowbar to break it up so I could excavate planting holes. The effort was not inconsiderable. On Saturday evening, 4 of the plants had been dug up and I found they had been dragged off around 10 feet in varying random directions from where I had planted them. It had to be the crazed sheep that are roaming around the castle grounds at present, that have escaped from the neighbouring field.

You do not think of sheep as being malevolent, but obviously they didn't eat them but just caused wanton damage - why? I replanted and surrounded
 the shrubs with stones. On Sunday morning, one of the shrubs had again been dug up. I added more stones to the defensive walls later that day, see the following photo:

the reality - fortress baby Pieris
This really is war.


  1. We have a robin nesting in ours.

    1. Lovely - if only my shrub were that large. :-)

  2. It's a two pronged attack. I am expecting the flaming pigs of antiquity next. :-)

  3. How fabulous to have singing tiles that write no less. Now you need to work out what the writing says ;-)
    Not so fabulous though with sheep and rabbits ganging up on your wee plants. I do hope the fortified rock wall will help keep them in the ground long enough for them to get established. We put droppers and wire around new plants, but the ground being as hard as you described, I can imagine that might be tricky.

  4. Replies
    1. As for the singing, and writing tiles: may we have a video of it singing? Thank you.