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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Monday 20th June 2011

I went looking for Laburnum and bumped into Alan Titchmarsh.

Laburnum flowers

I make a point of having a look, each morning, at the previous day’s visitor statistics for this site and, although they are limited in detail, from time to time that sets me off on a little detective work that, in turn, sometimes, leads me along an unexpected path.

This site doesn’t use cookies. For those of you who don’t understand what that means I’ll try and pass on my limited understanding of what they are and how they work; web savvy readers should feel free to scoff. Cookies are small files transferred to your computer from the website you are visiting. If you revisit, the site will look for the presence of cookies previously deposited. At its simplest, this system means a website owner knows how many of its visitors are returning for another look and how many are first-timers.

More complex cookies can be used to follow the actual pages visited so the owner gets an idea of whether people are exploring the site or just returning to the same pages. At the even more complex end, cookies can be used to build up a picture of what interests you by making notes of all the websites you visit and creating a profile. And, if a site uses some sort of registration process, the cookie can be used to store personal information so that, instead of knowing that ‘some user’ made a return visit, the site owner knows that Fred Jones was here again.

But, as I said, this site does not use cookies so the visitor statistics I see each day are limited to the overall number of visitors and things like the top and bottom 20 for pages visited and times and lengths of sessions.  Taking the long view it is very satisfying to see how the number of visitors has grown month by month since the site started and it is useful to know how many visitors arrive via a search engine.

Just occasionally, the single day view throws up something interesting and I try and dig deeper into its meaning. This morning’s report shows that yesterday included a substantial increase in the number of visitors interested in reading about Laburnum. In general, I capitalise the genus name and use lowercase for the common name. With Laburnum, there is a question of which to go for as genus and common name are the same. I tend to go for uppercase to denote the genus since, as I’ve said many times before, I like to promote the use of botanical names.

As well as seeing the big increase in interest in Laburnum, the statistics showed a big spike in visitors between 1800 and 2000 on Sunday evening. Now, the report doesn’t tell me that these visits were the extra people interested in Laburnum but I have found, in the past, that this sort of thing can be traced back to a mention on TV or radio.

So, first suspect has to be ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’ on BBC Radio 4. I wasn’t sure of finding what I wanted because the programme is first broadcast on a Friday afternoon and there had been no spike then. Also, the Sunday repeat is from 1400 to 1445 so I would expect any interest to show up in the 1500 segment. Nonetheless, I found the programme on the BBC iPlayer and began listening while pursuing other avenues.

A search of as many TV and radio listings as I could find came up with only one other possible, a repeat on Radio 4 Extra of an Alan Titchmarsh programme from some years ago. When GQT came up blank, as expected, I found the iPlayer recording of the Titchmarsh programme and gave that a listen.

At this point, I should say that I also drew a blank there and still don’t know what sparked the sudden interest in Laburnum. It may have been a mention on local radio or on a busy web forum but unless someone links to this site I can’t trace that back. There was one mention of Laburnum on Sunday on Twitter but I doubt if that explains it. But, it wasn’t my search for Laburnum that provoked today’s entry. It was that Alan Titchmarsh programme.

It was one of those odd programmes; half one-man chat show where the protagonist tells anecdotes from their past without needing a chat show host to prompt them with banal questions and half ‘With Great Pleasure’ as Titchmarsh selected writings that have influenced him. I don’t know when it was first broadcast but it was during the time that Titchmarsh presented ‘Gardeners’ World’ on BBC2.

Solanum dulcamara

Solanum melongena

At some point, of course, he started talking about plants and, after giving the common names of a couple of plants, we went on about how he can’t be doing with all these ‘Latin’ names people use to make themselves sound posh. Now, I’m sure that Titchmarsh knows the botanical names of every plant in his garden and many, many more besides. And I’m also sure he knows that the names of plants are their ‘botanical’ names not their ‘Latin’ names.

So, why the need to pretend otherwise? Why the belief that there is merit in demonstrating ignorance? These days, if someone from London went on about Yorkshiremen being ‘bluff’ or ‘rough’ or ‘thick’ he would be attacked for resorting to cheap stereotypes so why should it be acceptable for a Yorkshireman to stereotype himself?

There is something in the British character that makes us demean knowledge. We’re much more likely to take to someone who ‘tells it straight’ rather than some ‘fancypants’ who has studied and learnt. This is not an attack just on Alan Titchmarsh because he is far from being the only person in the public eye who is guilty of spreading this contempt for knowledge.

I wrote last week about the huge amount we don’t know about plants and the opportunities for young people to fill in some of those gaps and make a real contribution to the human race. People like Titchmarsh should be campaigning for higher standards of knowledge and education to benefit us all. Not suggesting that the ability to distinguish between Solanum dulcamara and Solanum melongena is something to be mocked.