Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Still

We started the week by attending Stilled, a performance that wove together dance, light, music and photography which created a meditative cross art-form event exploring time, movement and the arts of seeing and being seen. We were led into the darkened Helen Martin studio, pulsating with live, improvised music. In the middle of the room, several dancers were on the floor, doing their thing. We sat on one of the benches, placed around the  ‘stage’. Behind us, were white boards with pinhole photographs. Unfortunately, it was too dark to see them.

We were there for about an hour, trying to make sense of what was going on. But we failed miserably. Stilled was performed as part of the 2012 Spring meeting of the British Crystallographic Association. Inspired by the scientific process of X-ray crystallography, it was a durational dance (performed for between 3 and 12 hours) and an exhibition of pinhole photographs. The dance was performed not only for a human audience, but also for an audience of pinhole cameras. During the performance, these cameras take long-exposure photographs of the movements taking place, which were developed and then displayed as part of the event.

In Stilled, the audience witnessed the performance taking place, and the strange, often abstract images that bear witness to earlier improvisations. It was a meditation on the nature of perception: of taking time to become visible, taking time to be present, taking time to look, and taking time to see.  Audiences were free to come and go throughout the duration of the piece. I guess we didn’t stay long enough to find out what was happening. Anyway, the sound system was right behind Babe and it was giving him a throbbing headache. And the bench was really uncomfortable. :-)

Babe then went to Brandon Marsh to stretch his legs and clear his head. He managed to reach one of the hides before it started raining. I think this lovely photograph of the hailstones dancing into the lake summed up perfectly the performance that we’d seen earlier.  Brandon Marsh D7000 X2  17-04-2012 14-59-59 When we arrived home in the evening, we were greeted by a delightful sight in the garden. We’d our 24th visitor and it was this handsome Jay. Oh my… We saw him checking the feeder from the tree and watched him edging closer and closer and hey presto, he was feeding. We rushed to get our cameras and was busy clicking away. We hoped he will continue to grace us with his presence. Coventry D300s  17-04-2012 17-10-28

“From bush to bush slow sweeps the screaming jay

With one harsh note of pleasure all day”

~John Care ‘Selected poems’~

Bluebells were still asleep in Tocil Woods. But there were plenty of drifts of white wood anemones bringing colour to the damp, lush undergrowth. According to Greek legends, they sprang up from Aphrodite’s tears as she cried over Adonis death.

“Where streams his blood there blushing springs a rose

And where a tear has dropped, a windflower blows”

 Warwick University D3100  20-04-2012 12-33-46

The name Windflower comes from the belief that it will only open in the windy month of March, a bit late I think.

“Coy anemone that ne’er uncloses

Her lips until they’re blown on by the wind”

At work, I finally managed to start on the Audit Commission Collections. I was supposed to work on them last year but there was about 12 shelves of them and some were already in the Official publications collection. An executive decision was made to weed them thoroughly and I ended with only 4 shelves. The subject specialist and I decided to make them available for loan. It was a challenge to give the class numbers because of the limited range in the ‘Warwick’ schedule. I had to arrange them according to Northern England, Southern England and the Midlands. I also depended on the Cutter to make the classification numbers more unique and searchable.  

On Friday, CC and I met KC for dinner. KC was in  town for the weekend. It was nice seeing her again. We checked out the Italian market which was already packing up for the night. We browsed in M&S but we didn’t buy anything. We were too hungry to think straight. At first we planned to have dinner at either the Noodle Bar or Nandos. But when we walked past the Red Panda, they had a promotional dinner buffet and we decided to take advantage of the offer.

After ordering a huge pot of Chinese cha (loose-leaf) we took turns to sample the menu. I was delighted that they had Sushi and loaded my plate. Unfortunately, there was no pickled ginger and I had a very tiny drop of wasabi paste. What a mistake. It was so hot that I felt that my head was blown off and my eyes kept on watering. Phew!!! Luckily, it didn’t put me off my next course.

There was so much seafood on offer. Yummy…yummy. I had prawns, mussels, squids and fish fillet cooked in 1001 ways. Off course, I also had the stuffed mushroom, Chinese vegetables and noodles. We’d a lovely time polishing our plates, exchanging news and laughters. There was so much to talk about. I cleanse my palate with the sweet corn and crab soup. Another plate loaded with seafood and finally a small plate of fruit jelly and ice-cream. Where on earth did I put all these away??/

After 2 hours, it was time to pay the bill. As a treat, I ordered a takeaway for Babe’s dinner. We were thinking of coming again to try the hot-pot. One of our colleagues, have been asking us to accompany her to try the hot-pot which was held upstairs. I passed the food counter on my way to use the facilities and it was seafood heaven. Hmm, looks like we might make a trip back in the very near future. CC gave me a lift home and KC will be spending the night at her chateaux. It was nice seeing you again KC and we will meet again at the CIG conference in Sheffield in September. The cake and bread in the photograph wasn’t in the menu. It was Herman, the German Friendship cake that I baked in the previous entry.Coventry D3100  18-04-2012 20-47-20

I was reading a book for my next book club meeting at about 10 pm when I thought I heard something on the roof. When I looked out of the window, the ground was shining brightly. What on earth??? When I came out, I was pelted with hailstones. Ouch..ouch. They were coming down thick and fast. I quickly rushed to the back garden to cover my new plants and some had to be brought into the casa. It must have been pouring through the night because the ground was still covered the next morning.Coventry D50  20-04-2012 19-42-28 Earth Day fell on the weekend. It was our moment to look around, breathe the air in a little deeper and hug the trees a little tighter. It was a day to appreciate the unbelievable resources we have and to pledge to do our best to protect the incredible offerings that nature unfailingly provides us.

Let the beauty you love be what you do.

There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth.

~Rumi~

Unfortunately we didn’t hug any trees but we did breathe deeply the air at our favourite nature reserve. Not many people about. I guess the atrocious weather was putting them off. We made a quick dash to Baldwin Hide to dodge the showers. Swallows and sand-martins were using the pontoon as a resting place after the vigorous swooping and sweeping above the lake. We could hear their chattering warble and ‘wit-wit’ call while in flight.Brandon Marsh D7000 X14  20-04-2012 13-36-19

We also saw a lot of the waders sitting on nests. There were Oyster-catchers, Coots, Moorhens, Lapwings, Greylags, Swans and Canada Geese. One of Babe’s friend told us that the Shelducks were checking out the underground nest. Ooh…I hoped they liked it and start making a home. I have never seen Shelduck babies before. I couldn’t wait… It was also lovely to see the Little- ring Plovers skirmishing as they chase each other. Common Snipes were well camouflaged near a tree-trunk and Redshanks were busy feeding on the mudbanks.Brandon Marsh D300s X14  22-04-2012 16-27-54

We made it in time to East Marsh hide before the heavens opened and hailstones fell from the sky again. We were informed that we’d just missed a Nightingale!!! It would made my day if I could see one but I guess not today. One of the twitchers received a text saying that the bird was heard singing on the path towards Carlton Hide. In the pouring rain, a few of them rushed towards the scene. Dedication eh??? We stayed put and admired the gorgeous rainbow. Then not one but 3 Muntjac came into view. They were busy feeding on the bank opposite the hide. All you could hear were the cameras clicking away.Brandon Marsh D300s X14  22-04-2012 16-42-08

At about 7pm, we made our way to Carlton Hide to see if the Barn Owl was out and about. The twitchers were still standing along the path waiting for the Nightingale. Carlton Hide was packed. There were more people than natives. A Sparrow-hawk made a sudden appearance and caught everyone by surprise. We waited until 8 pm but nobody turned up. I even read a book. It was that quiet.  

We started the week by checking out a performance titled Still. We ended the week by sitting still in Carlton Hide. It was just perfect for us. We hoped you too had a perfect, still week.

Give yourself a perfect day. Do what makes you happiest. Look upon what gives you joy. speak to those who warm your heart. Listen to that which lifts your spirit. surround yourself with sights and sounds and people who give you pleasure. For all the happiness you give to others all year long, give yourself a perfect day.

~Unknown~

I would like to wish my youngest nephew, Eris,  Get well soon. Coventry D300s X14  22-04-2012 11-33-56

Friday, 20 April 2012

Spread a Herman

It was only a 4 day week but it felt much longer. It was hard going back to work after the long bank holiday weekend. I took the bus 3 times because Babe wasn’t well enough to drive. The weather couldn’t make up its mind, again. I was fully dressed as the Michelin man in the morning. By mid-morning, the sun came out but always hidden behind dark clouds, warm but chilly in the shade. At night, the temperature dropped. I resorted to sleeping with a hot-water bottle for added warmth.Brandon Marsh D300s X14  12-04-2012 15-04-37April had brought with it all the 4 seasons. They came together on many a day, much like life with all of its tears and laughters. Clouds and sunshine, changing with the changing hours. There was no rain for months and then like the bus, it turned up and fell all at once, days and days of it like Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night :

For the rain, it raineth everyday 

It was also very quiet at work. Most of my colleagues had taken an extended holiday. Taking 4 days of their annual holidays entitled them to 10 whole days off work. I’m soo jealous that I’m planning to do the same next year. But we’d a party of our own. I bought an Easter chocolate traybake to be shared among my colleagues. Then GLW also brought a huge cake. It was his 25th wedding anniversary. Wow…we were impressed. When JG returned from her holidays in the Caribbean, she brought guava cheese to be shared. Yummy…

During my lunch break, I took the opportunity to check out the bluebells in Tocil Wood. I’d seen lots of photographs of these stunning flowers and wanted to see if they’d started flowering. I was quite surprised to see that they were still contemplating. I think they might bloom in a fortnight's time. There was an orchestra of bird songs being pumped out at full volume but they were well-hidden among the lush foliage. This adorable tree-creeper was scrambling up and down the tree, hunting for food. Warwick University D3100  13-04-2012 12-03-052 On Wednesday, we’d a wonderful time dissecting Jeanette Winterson’s Lighthousekeeping. It was very interesting when you listen to some one else interpretation of the book. I was quite surprised when some of the members were debating the gender of the main character. We’d a quick glance through the book to confirm that it was a female. We also had a new member to the club. Welcome Bob and as a treat he got to choose a book  in 2 months time.

The highlight of this week in Coventry was when the windows in the city and surrounding areas was rattled by a loud bang. I was in the greenhouse tending my plants when I felt it shook. I looked up and saw the birds flying about in panic. What on earth??? Nothing major that I could feel or see and continued to what I was doing. Later at 10 pm, when I was watching the local news, I found out that the loud bang was a sonic boom. A sonic boom was the sound associated with the shockwaves created when an object travels through the air and broke the sound barrier. 

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that a Typhoon fighter aircraft was the culprit. A small civilian helicopter had emitted an emergency signal on a frequency it should not have been using. Such a signal could indicate the aircraft had been hijacked or had gone ‘rogue’. 2 typhoons from the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) responded accordingly and was authorised to go supersonic. I bet the pilot of the helicopter will have to do some serious explanations, might received a major warning or worse still have his license suspended. You cannot be wishy-washy when it comes to national security. Babe took this photograph of a Typhoon doing their exercise when we were in Aberystwyth last month.Nant yr Arian D7000  28-03-2012 13-38-52Have you heard of Herman? Herman the German friendship cake (or Chain letter cake). Has he came knocking on your kitchen door?  I was given a container of the yeasty mix and a set instructions on when to add sugar, flour and milk and when to stir it. After lovingly ‘feeding’ him for 10 days, you divide the mixture into 4 portions, pass 3 to your friends and, with the rest, bake yourself a very yeasty and sugary but surprisingly tasty cake. 

I came to work and found a container and a note on my keyboard. CC then introduced me to Herman with implicit instructions not to shove him in the fridge. He was not just a container of yeast but now a member of the family. CC had also given a container to CM and we promised to exchange notes. As soon as I arrived home, Herman was transferred to a big bowl where he has the space to breathe and grow. Over the next 3 days, he was stirred and engaged in a one-sided conversation until he was ready for his first meal of flour, milk and sugar on the 4th. day.

The smell of fermenting Herman wafted through the casa. He was very undemanding. After 4 days of stirring and gossiping, he was ready to be fed with the same meal and then divided and put into 4 containers to be distributed. But I didn’t do that. I wanted to spend more time with Herman. I made the first portion into a raisin cake, the 2nd into a chocolate chip cake, the 3rd as a sweet bread and the 4th was to be nurtured as a starter again. All you need was add more flour, sugar, eggs and whatever you want Herman to be and stick it in the oven. Whatever comes out, taste utterly delicious.

I baked Herman while getting the dinner ready. It was that easy. I brought several slices to work to share among my colleagues. They were impressed and all of them wanted the next Herman babies, which I’m nurturing at the moment. The best thing was that CM also brought hers along and they were quite different from mine. You can start from the same starter but it will turned out entirely different. It was the hottest topic during our tea break.

Do give it a try and spread the love, spread a Herman.

Day

  1. You get Herman and put him in a large mixing bowl and cover loosely with a tea towel.
  2. Stir well
  3. Stir well
  4. Herman is hungry. Add 1 cup each of plain flour, sugar and milk. Stir well.
  5. Stir well
  6. Stir well
  7. Stir well
  8. Stir well
  9. Hungry again. Add the same as day 4 and stir well. Divide into 4 equal portions and give away to friends with a copy of these instructions. Keep the 4th one.
  10. Herman is very hungry. Stir well and add the following:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • half tsp (teaspoon) salt
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 2/3 (two thirds) cup of cooking oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 2 cooking apples cut into chunks (optional)
  • 1 cup raisins (optional)
  • 2 heaped tsp cinnamon
  • 2 heaped tsp baking powder

Other options include cherries, pineapple, chocolate chips (use your imagination).                                                                        Mix everything together and put into a large greased baking tin. You can sprinkle with a quarter of a cup of brown sugar and a quarter of a cup of melted butter for topping but Herman is just tasty without this.. Bake for 45 minutes at 170-180C. Insert a skewer until it comes out clean.

It is going to be hard to be parted with Herman’s babies but they are going to good homes. RC, SA and even CC wants Herman’s babies. But I still have one portion which I’ll nurture and then share the friendship and happiness with my neighbours. I hoped they too will spread Herman around. Bonn app├ętit!!! A photograph of Herman will be uploaded later.

“The infinite goodness has such wide arms that it takes whatever turns to it”

~Dante~

Monday, 16 April 2012

Hopping Down the Bunny Trail

The air is like a butterfly

With frail blue wings

The happy earth look s at the sky

And sings

~Joyce Kilmer ‘Easter’~

It had been a very wet and cold Easter weekend. I kept on reminding myself everytime I looked out the window that April showers do bring May flowers. But will my plants survive this constant downpour? They looked miserable and drenched. My wildflower patch looked like a mud bath. I think I might need to sow more seeds again as soon as possible. But at least I was dry and warm in the casa dotted with fluffy, yellow chicks, hanging speckled eggs and everything to do with Easter.   Coventry D3100  09-04-2012 07-40-27Not that we celebrate Easter, but I do celebrate the return of Spring and it was a lovely season. We don’t have any small children around, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have fun with Easter eggs. I baked a chocolate tray bake and scattered 2 packs of mini eggs. I later realised that I’d used caster instead of icing sugar for the topping. Duh??? But, it still tasted delicious.Coventry D3100  09-04-2012 14-39-17On Good Friday, in between sunshine and showers, we headed towards our favourite playground. It was surprisingly quiet. I guess either a lot of people was away for the long bank holiday weekend or they don’t want to be out and about in such atrocious weather. Even the natives were sheltering from the wet and windy weather. But I was very chuffed when I spotted this adorable Chiffchaff feeding on the alder tree which was outside the Baldwin Hide.Brandon Marsh D50  06-04-2012 12-32-28

“The uncrested wren, called in this place chiff-chaff is very loud … It does only two piercing notes.”

~Gilbert White~ 

While I was freezing and wet, busy stalking this cutie, Babe was warm and dry inside the hide. He took hundreds of photographs of Reed Buntings, Oyster Catchers, Common Snipes, Hybrid Goose and the Sand-martins.. It was wonderful to see the Sand-martins back again. They were one of the first of the summer visitors to arrive back to the reserve, and seeing the forked tail flying low over the lake was amazing. Their twittering calls echoed around us. So far we’d not seen any activities by the sandcastle. I guess it was still early in the year.Brandon Marsh D7000  08-04-2012 14-45-29 On Saturday, I finally managed to make my way to the hairdresser. A haircut was long overdue as I hadn’t been to the hairdresser for nearly a year. My hair had ‘overgrown’ below my shoulder and the bangs were over my eyes. I went to the hairdresser down the road and requested a very simple bob. Since this was my first time with the stylist, I wanted to see her handiwork first before I went for an edgier trim. It was better than I expected and it only cost me half of what I’d been charged before. A bargain and I’ll definitely come again.

The weather was still ‘bleurgh’. but that doesn’t stop us from venturing out. We drove through dark and gloomy grey skies and by the time we arrived at Groby Pool ‘raindrops were falling on our head’. The faster we walked, the heavier it fell :-). When we arrived at the pool, the natives rushed towards us. I felt so guilty because I came with empty handed. They turned away with a huff. Check out this handsome white duck shooing us away.Groby Pools D50  07-04-2012 12-16-47

Then a slippery drive downhill towards Bradgate Park. The  car-park was nearly empty. I guess people weren’t as hardy or adventurous as we were. As usual, we walked over to the River Lin to see if our favourite Widgeon was about. He was nowhere to be seen. I hoped he was ok and just sheltering elsewhere. But this lively Grey wagtail made our day. It was flittering among the rocks, hunting for food.Bradgate Park D7000 X14  07-04-2012 14-48-001

We headed towards Lady Jane Grey’s ruins. It was opened during summer and we took the opportunity to wander in the spacious grounds. We spotted a herd of heavily pregnant deer at the far end of the compound. We crept very slowly trying not to stress them. Green woodpecker calls and drumming echoed around us. By the pond, a pair of Mandarin ducks flew in and had a quiet swim. This was the first time we came across them in Bradgate.Bradgate Park D50  07-04-2012 13-20-46

We continued checking out the herd. They eyed us nervously. As we continued walking, I think Babe flushed out a pair of Curlews and a handsome male pheasant strutted over to check us out. I stumbled upon a huge wasp nest which had been dug up by what we think, was a badger. Babe then spotted this Mallard nesting in a hole up a tree which was over 2 metres from the ground. OMG, how on earth were the chicks going to get to the ground??? I know they wanted to lay their eggs in a safe place, but this was ridiculous.Bradgate Park D50  07-04-2012 13-46-50

We were about to leave when we spotted 2 very handsome peacocks strutting their stuff in the grounds, a few metres apart. From time to time, they will give out a shrieking call as a warning. We sat on the stone wall to see if they were going to fight each other. Nah… they did their best to get away from each other. The younger male was spooked by a couple who tried to get too close and flew up a tree. The closer they get, the higher it climbed up. It’s not often one can see a peacock up a tree.Bradgate Park D50  07-04-2012 14-18-011As we walked back towards the car-park, the sun finally came out. It turned out to be a very lovely evening after all. We spotted a herd of Red Deer feeding near the folly but it was too far for us to walk. By this time we were already exhausted and our wet clothes had already dried up. We made another pit-stop at the end of Groby Pool but nobody was home. We continued our drive home when at the junction between Leicester and Coventry, I spotted this handsome Buzzard surveying his kingdom. He was perched on the electricity pylon. I’m chuffed that at last, I managed to get this magnificent bird-of-prey. Roadtrip Bradgate Park D50  07-04-2012 15-28-58On Easter Sunday, after gorging on chocolate eggs, we set for Brandon Marsh again. Because of the unpredictable weather, the ongoing fuel crisis and also Babe’s health, we didn’t want to venture too far. We walked through muddy footpaths towards the Steely White. The hedgerows were laden with creamy white blossoms. Chiffchaffs and Cetti Warblers were competing for bird factor. Chiffchaffs were easily spotted but not the elusive Cetti Warblers.Brandon Marsh D50  06-04-2012 14-01-09We then continued towards the main path. We went straight towards the new viewing screen at the end of the reserve. Viewing screen??? You got to be at least 1.8 metres tall to be able to see through the screen. I was fuming. The Trust were planning to build another hide here and I hoped they will be facing the right way. This is because from the left and middle were Barn Owl boxes, then a Kestrel barrel and to the right was the Osprey nesting/resting pole. I guess we just have to wait and see. This was me trying to see what was behind the screen.Brandon Marsh D300s  06-04-2012 13-12-37We settled down at Carlton Hide. A Moorhen was hard at work, picking pieces of furniture for the floating nest, well-hidden among the reeds. The partner was sitting on eggs and busy rearranging the bits that was brought in. A Canada Goose was also sitting on eggs on the island. Quite a vulnerable place, we think. Then Paul came in and showed us photographs of a Barn Owl quartering by the reeds. Without hesitation, we decided to hang on a little bit longer. It was nearly dusk when this gorgeous bird flew out of its nesting box and started hunting.  

Brandon Marsh D300s X14  08-04-2012 17-30-031It was the most amazing sight seeing it almost ghost-like, flapping its long slim wings and very pale underparts. We rushed out of the hide and watched it quartering silently above the grassland at the back of the reserve. We saw it dive a few times and finally it caught something. We saw it carried its prey back to the box which was hidden from our view. We decided to leave the family in peace and we headed home, contented.Brandon Marsh D300s X14  08-04-2012 17-44-022

A wise old owl sat in an oak

The more he heard, the less he spoke

The less he spoke, the more he heard

Why aren’t we all like that wise old owl

~ANON~

Bank holiday Monday was spent chilling out at home. Babe had one of his bad days and was tucked in bed with a hot water bottle plastered to his head. I vacuumed the casa, did the ironing and worked on the raised beds. The soil still needed to be broken up and plenty of weeding to do. I potted another Clematis and a Fern in an old box and put it by the shaded end of the fence. Nothing grows here except for dandelions. It was supposed to be a car-porch but it was too tight for our car. I tried to brighten it by hanging a few pots of geraniums, periwinkle and ivy.

I popped over to Aldi to get a pot of Cotton-Easter, a pack of rocket and frozen Yorkshire pudding. I planted the Cotton-Easter by the fence to brighten up the corner. The stunning red berries would also feed the birds in winter. The rocket was for my sandwich for work and the Yorkshire pudding was for our Easter dinner. We’d it with yummy Roast Welsh lamb and broccoli cheese drowned in onion gravy. Just delicious.

The evening was spent reading ‘Lighthousekeeping’ by Jeanette Winterson for my upcoming book-club discussion. It was about Silver who was motherless and taken as an apprentice by Pew, a blind keeper of the Cape Wrath lighthouse. Pew tells Silver of ancient tales of longing and rootlessness, of ties that bind and of the slippages that occur throughout life. One life was of Babel Dark, a nineteenth-century bigamous pastor who suffered the torments of his double life.

The lighthouse was later automated and Pew made redundant.Stripped of her guiding lights, Silver suddenly appeared in Capri. This was where the plot flickers. She stole a talking bird, was committed to a mental institution, put on Prozac and got a lover. Then she she was back to the lighthouse after 20 years. She looked out and there was Pew in a blue boat with her old dog, DogJim.. Very strange.

I also found it amusing that there were several mention of librarians. One was when Miss Pinch suggested for Silver to apply for the post of a Junior Trainee Assistant Librarian. She warned her not to be ambitious because it wasn’t suitable for females and librarianship was suitable for females. The other one was “that’s the thing about some librarians—they love telling you a book is out of print, borrowed, lost, or not even written yet.” Not a good advert for the profession, huh :0)

We’d a lovely Easter and I hoped you too. Take it easy on the chocolates…Also a very happy belated birthday to 2 adorable rascals, Emir and Eris. I hoped they’d a wonderful day and I missed them lots.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Ne'er cast a clout till May be oot*

The weather had been a devil in disguise and had managed to surprise everyone. It was  temperamental and unpredictable. It was either all or nothing. Last week I was tricked into believing that I’m in sunny tropical Malaysia and this week I was shivering in frostbitten Siberia. The recent heat wave was now a distant memory. It was so cold, that I found this perfectly formed ice in this tulip leaf in the garden.Coventry D3100  06-04-2012 07-46-49

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”

~ T.S. Eliot   The Waste Land ~

I took the bus to work twice this week. Babe was having one of his bad days and was tucked in bed with a hot-water bottle plastered to his head. Out came my winter boots, thick woollen socks, leather gloves, hat, long scarves and thick coats from storage. I was so organised that they were already washed, dry-cleaned and stored away. It was a shock to be shivering at the bus-stop in the wet, windy and freezing conditions. Thankfully, the Midlands wasn’t as bad as the blizzard-like conditions of the North.

It was so cold that someone thought that it was going to be Xmas in April. Babe took this adorable photograph from our bedroom window. This Santa Goldfinch was picking fluffy, white feathers for building a nest. I think that at least 2 pairs were nesting in the Leylandii hedges in front of the casa. The feathers will keep the eggs warm and hopefully insulated from the atrocious conditions.Coventry D300s X14  02-04-2012 10-10-049

From time to time, the heavens opened pouring snow and sleet. It was freezing outdoors and we were also shivering in the office. The heating had been switched off when we ushered in British Summer Time. We’d to rely on portable heaters and of course, wearing layers.   Outside the office, the cherry trees were in full bloom. What a magnificent sight. I was praying hard that they wouldn’t drop before I could take some photographs. The beauty of trees blossoming always lifts my heart especially so when the weather was awful.Warwick University D3100  30-03-2012 12-37-24

Cherry blossoms tend to wait until late April or May. But a run of warm weather has encouraged the fragile flowers out weeks early. Although it was wonderful to see the blossom this early, nature's timetable was incredibly well choreographed and it was a cause for concern that a lot of the pollinators, like honey bees, which the cherry trees rely on,will not be around yet. The wind could also blow the blossom off the trees before  they were pollinated.

I took advantage of the lull in the weather during my lunch break and went for a walk, dressed like the Michelin man. I was so pleased to see that the swan was sitting on a nest, beautifully camouflaged by the reeds. I’m glad they were back again on their old nesting site. Last year, the Estate department had cut all these reeds and I don’t know where the pair went. I’ll be checking their progress every week now. There was also a water fountain in the lake. It must be a new feature. Warwick University D3100  05-04-2012 11-59-02

As I continued walking, I spotted grey wagtails, robins, mallards mating, coots, moorhens, Canada Geese, reed buntings and a Great Crested Grebe. This was my first sighting in the university and I hoped this lovely bird will stay. There were a lot of cherry trees in full bloom and honey bees were busy collecting pollen. It was wonderful to be out in the fresh air and coming back to work, feeling refreshed and raring to go.   Warwick University D3100  05-04-2012 12-13-17

The hosepipe ban was finally upon us, implemented by seven water companies starting on the 5th of April. After weeks of tweaking their rules to create as little bad publicity as possible, these suppliers laid their judgement upon us. A hosepipe ban was introduced to conserve water stocks. Those caught using hosepipes faces fine of up to £1k!!! I and I bet others too would agree that water companies that allow water leaks should also be fined. Considering the vast profits they make on what was, after all, a natural resource, I would suggest a fine of  £1m for each leak that had gone unchecked. That would really push them to put their house in order before penalising us. Warwick University D3100  05-04-2012 11-59-42 I was very excited when I looked out the window one morning and saw our 24th visitor to our garden. It was a Greenfinch and it was sharing the birdfeeder with a Coal tit. How lucky can you get. The Starlings tend to monopolise the feeders most of the time. But we also have a very feisty pair of Robins chasing everything off. There is also a pair of docile Pigeons and they were nesting in the Leylandii bushes at the back of the casa. Coventry D3100  06-04-2012 08-04-37Britain was warned to brace itself for travel chaos as a perfect storm of atrocious weather, fuel tanker industrial disputes and the mass Easter getaway collide.  We’d a few plans lined up but it all depended on the previous warnings and also Babe’s health. What we usually do was look at the weather forecast when we woke up and go from there. Whatever you do, please take care. Have a n egg-citing Easter.

“Life is like a blanket too short. You pull it up and your toes rebel, you yank it down and shivers meander about your shoulder; but cheerful folks manage to draw their knees up and pass a very comfortable night”

~Marion Howard~

*Don't put aside winter clothing until May is out – a Scottish proverb.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Pre-Blackthorn Winter* Shenanigans

“The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.

The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.”

~Henry Van Dyke~

In this case, the difference was just in a week. A week was a long time when it came to the British weather. Mild March had given way to Arctic April in matter of weeks and thankfully we managed to squeeze in a very short break in between the ‘seasons’. On the day the weatherman predicted glorious blue skies, sizzling sunshine and summer temperatures, we hopped into the car and made a day-trip to our old home-town, Aberystwyth, and to say hello to the Red kites.Nant yr Arian D7000  28-03-2012 14-14-011

We drove through the Shropshire countryside now swathed in a flush of green, like a Mexican wave of living green, with new leaves unfurling on every twig, branch and tree. Hawthorn bushes were abundantly in full bloom, scattering their snowy-white petals as we drove past. We whizzed through fields scattered with fluffy lambs skipping in the sunshine and with it the (un)delightful aroma of the countryside.Roadtrip Aberystwyth D3100  28-03-2012 11-27-34Our first stop was the Dyfi Osprey Project  situated in Cors Dyfi (Dyfi bog). This was our visit to this delightful nature reserve. When we arrived, the volunteers were busy sprucing up the information centre. They weren’t opened yet but we were allowed to checkout the reserve and the main-hide which about 500 metres away from the Osprey platform. The female, Mona, had already arrived and she was last seen flying towards the sea, most probably fishing. We spotted Chaffinches, Reed Buntings, Robins, Blue and Great Tits and my first ever sighting of a vole. That made my day.Dyfi Osprey Project D300s X2  28-03-2012 12-39-36 Then a quick drive towards the opposite end of the county. We wanted to be in time for the kite feeding session at Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest Centre which was at 2pm. From a distance, we saw hundreds of these magnificent birds already gathering, circling and soaring above the lake. A quick check at the bird-feeder outside the visitor-centre and it was buzzing with more Chaffinches. We were a bit early for the Siskins. Nant yr Arian D7000  28-03-2012 13-50-058We made our way slowly downhill towards the lake. The strategic points had already being taken but we managed to find a good spot. And then the frenzy begins. At first, they watched, waiting to unfurl their wings. Then, suddenly they swoop down with breathtaking feats of aerial display skimming the ground to snatch a scrap before rising suddenly. With the meat clutched in its talons, they make for clear airspace where they feel secure enough to feed. With its 1.8 metre wings spread out for stability the head turns down to meet with its forward lifted legs. Now the kite can feed, but still keep an eye out for other marauding kites.

Nant yr Arian D7000  28-03-2012 14-11-027 Although there were still plenty of food on the ground, they still mugged from each other. Often too, they fished the meat that had dropped into the lake in a spectacular swoop. The long, high pitched mewing were echoing around us. From time to time, they would fly so low that I could see their bright yellow legs, striking white patches under the wings. and even the very sharp and superbly designed hooked beak. Totally stunning birds.Nant yr Arian D7000  28-03-2012 14-44-003 I wanted to check-out Aberystwyth town centre but we were caught up in slow traffic and thus changed our minds We’d a pit-stop at Morisson for bottled water and off course, Welsh cakes. We were driving up Primrose Hill when we decided to pay a visit to our old home in the Llanbadarn Campus. It was a shock when we came across piles of rubble. We had known that the University had closed the accommodation halls  but we didn’t expect this. We lived in one of the flats for a year while Babe was completing his degree and I was still recuperating. We’d wonderful memories here. Below was the Thomas Parry library where I spent may happy times studying and later working.Aberystwyth D7000 Stitch  28-03-2012 15-47-04 Then we headed to Borth. As usual, we took the scenic but narrow and winding roads. A stop on the hill overlooking Borth was a must. The view was breathtaking.  It was the perfect weather when the sky was azure blue, the sun shining blindingly and the Cardigan Bay waves rolling onto the beach below us. More cuddly lambs gambolling on the fields and bright yellow flowering gorses glistering by the roadside. Why did we leave this beautiful part of Wales???  We planned to have a picnic on the beautiful Ynylas beaches but it was just too windy and chilly. So had it in the car enjoying the scenic views. Then it was time to head home, tired but content.Borth D7000  28-03-2012 16-05-40 Thursday was a trip to Wing Wah with my colleagues. I guess we needed fattening up and girl-bonding over yummy Chinese food. We pulled the blinds down as we were seated opposite the sports club where we could see people doing Zumba. Priorities huh…After ordering a huge pot of steaming Chinese cha (loose-leaf), we took turns to sample the offers. My first stop was the Sushi bar. I filled up my plate and slowly demolished everything. Then I headed for the main course and filled my plate with Singapore noodles, King prawns with sweet chilli Thai sauce, King mussels with garlic, calamari, and pan-fried fish fillet. It was seafood galore for me.

Wed a lovely time checking out each others plates. I didn’t fancy the starters and had the crab and sweet corn soup to cleanse my palate instead. Then, I  headed for the main course bar again and pile high on more seafood. It was a night full of laughter and conversations. My final course was a plate of fresh fruits instead of pudding. We were so stuffed that everyone was very quiet in the car, digesting the food very s-l-o-w-l-y. I also ordered a takeaway for Babe as a treat.

CC wanted to fill her car and we drove round searching for a garage. The queue at Sainsbury was spilling into the parking lot, Tesco’s Cannon Park had already been emptied and finally she managed to fill at a garage at the end of Fletchemstead Highway. It was the day when everyone was panic-buying on the advice of a silly minister. Babe and I went out at about 11 pm to fill up the car. The nearby Sainsbury’s garage barrier was already down. At Holbrooks Lane, only the expensive supreme was available. Thankfully, we managed to join the long queue at Arena Park’s Tesco. Even then, only a few pumps were working.  

Did you switch off your lights at 8.30pm on Saturday? It was in solidarity with Earth Hour, the world's largest mass event in support of the planet. Famous landmarks which normally light up the night sky were being plunged into darkness to raise the profile of climate change. Turning off the lights was a symbol of commitment to sustainable energy for all. But we must remember that a single hour, once a year is not enough. We have to do more.

I hoped during this special hour, it would be good for us to switch off everything and find a quiet space. Just stop and reflect on what life was really all about and say a silent thank you. I sat silently watching the solar lantern changing its colour and listening to the late-night chirpings of the blackbird and house sparrow. A lone bat was out and about hunting. It was a beautiful night,

Wise men agreed that it was okay to be foolish at times and in fact, every silly act is a step to wisdom. So don't be embarrassed when someone plays pranks on you and calls you 'April Fool'. Babe did one on me by saying that there was a peregrine (or was it an osprey) on our neighbour’s roof. I was so excited…how gullible I can be :-)

“The first of April, some do say
Is set apart for All Fool's Day;
But why the people call it so
Nor I, nor they themselves, do know,
But on this day are people sent
On purpose for pure merriment.”

~Anonymous~

The weekend was spent at Whitacre Heath Nature Reserve. This was our first trip for this year. Situated in the Tame Valley and lying on the floodplain of the adjoining River Tame, the reserve was a medley of shallow pools, wetland, woodland and grassland. We only checked out 2 hides so that it won’t be too exhaustive for Babe. As we walked towards the main hide, we were serenaded by a symphony of bird-songs.  Whitacre Heath D7000  01-04-2012 12-02-39 We’d the hide to ourselves. A pheasant was guarding his harem of 4 females very closely. Chaffinches, robins, dunnocks, blue and great tits were taking turns on the bird-feeder. We saw a couple of mice running in and out of a pile of wood. Then this handsome Great Spotted Woodpecker made an appearance and took his turn on the peanuts. Check out those striking colours.Whitacre Heath D300s X14  01-04-2012 12-38-21 We held our breath when this adorable wren came over for a drink by the pool. He hopped over so close to the hide, oblivious to our clicking cameras.  Later we walked towards the scrape hide but nobody’s home and made our way back to the car. It had been a lovely, sunny week and what a contrast to what was coming next. Whitacre Heath D300s X14  01-04-2012 12-30-13

Is it so small a thing

To have enjoyed the sun

To have lived light in the spring,

To have loved, to have thought, to have done

~Matthew Arnold, 1822-1888~

*Blackthorn winter” is a term used to describe a short spell of cold weather at the end of March which occurs when the Blackthorn is in flower.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Call Off the 2012 Canadian Seal Slaughter

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

Each year, the Canadian government authorizes sealers to club and shoot to death hundreds of thousands of baby seals for their fur. Defenceless seal pups are routinely impaled on metal hooks, cut open while conscious, and left to suffer in agony.

The overwhelming majority of compassionate people want the seal slaughter to end, and yet the Canadian government continues to use Canadian tax dollars to prop up this dying industry. Use the money for other industries that will contribute positively to Canada’s economy and image. No one wants or needs seal products.

Seals face this needless slaughter even as they also suffer the devastating impacts of climate change. Harp seals are ice dependent animals, relying on sea ice to give birth to and nurse their pups. This year, diminished sea ice has caused hundreds of thousands of pups to die before the slaughter even begins.

As the Prime Minister of Canada, you have an unparalleled opportunity to put an end to the globally condemned commercial seal slaughter.

I urge you to please show leadership and move Canada beyond commercial sealing. Please call off the 2012 Canadian seal slaughter.

Thank you,

Kevin and Seri

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Spring into Summer

Spring was officially sprung just a couple of days ago but it felt like I’ve already skipped a whole season and hurled straight into summer. The seasons were playing leapfrog as March felt like a balmy British June. In a survey for the Pimm’s Great British Summer Reports, 43% out of 3K adults think that talking about the weather is a peculiarly British trait. The comedian Giedroyc said : “We talked about the weather because there was so much of it. What other nation can boasts four seasons in one day?”


And I totally agree with him. Getting dressed for work was a challenge. It was freezing cold in the morning. Misty and foggy and at times, needing to scrape the car. By lunch-time, it was scorching. When it was time to head home, there was a chill in the air. At night, the temperature dropped like a stone..


The March win roars


Like a lion in the sky


And makes us shiver


As he passes by.


When winds are soft


And the days are warm and clear,


Just like a gentle lamb,


Then spring is here


~Unknown~


Although most of the students have gone home for the Easter vacations, the campus was bustling with activities. There was the Housing Association Conference, the Annual Conference of European University association (EUA) and one of the biggest events in the University sports calendar as Warwick hosts the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUSCS) National Football tournament. Traffic and parking was a nightmare and queues, queues everywhere. I nipped over to Cryfield Sports Field and ate my sandwich watching Durham play Gloucester in the Woman’s Trophy final. Unfortunately, I didn’t know who won because I’d to get back to work. Warwick University D3100  21-03-2012 13-11-34On Friday, I’d lunch with HH who had spread her wings and tried something new. I missed her farewell office party and dinner at the Noodle Bar ( how could I ?) because I was ill. We’d a lovely picnic under the glorious blue skies and sizzling sunshine near the latest sculptures on campus by the Japanese artist Atsuo Okamoto. HH had just returned from a lovely holiday in Washington where she got a glimpse of the Camerons. We’d a lovely time talking about everything under the sun. It was lovely to see you HH and we promised to have lunch together at least once a month.Warwick University D3100  22-03-2012 13-54-46 Then we checked out the 3 sculptures that was displayed on the Coventry House lawn. These works have been gifted to the University by the Sidney Nolan Trust. They have been created using the traditional Japanese methods of stone carving known as wari modoshi, translated as splitting and returning. This is a technique where splitting blocks into manageable portions and then fusing them together into a sculpture. Would I have it in my garden? Hmm.. I don’t think so.Warwick University D7000  22-03-2012 13-51-36


I spent the weekend pottering in the garden. I have sowed broccoli, spinach, chards, dwarf French beans, Chinese cabbage, radishes and for the first time, artichoke. The last one should be a challenge. I have never even eaten one but I like the structure of the plant. I am now working on 2 raised beds which I hoped to plant plugs of corn, courgettes, pak choi, tomatoes, rocket, salads and leek. Cucumbers will be grown in potato bags. I was supervised by this gorgeous Goldfinch, perched on our tv aerial.Coventry D50  25-03-2012 08-26-44I also bought 3 trays of lobelias, marigolds and petunias from Aldi. This will be for the 3 hanging baskets I have also sowed Dichondra Argentea Silver Falls in another hanging basket which would looked amazing under the porch. Anemone Coronaria de Caen or windflowers, Croscosmia, Hollyhocks, Dahlias and Peacock Orchids had already being planted. Fingers-crossed, there is going to be an explosion of colours in summer. The spring flowers such as daffodils, hyacinths, tulips and helleborus were still going strong.Coventry D7000  22-03-2012 09-34-37


All through the long winter, I dream of my garden.


On the first day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth.


I can feel its energy, and my spirits soar.


~Helen Hayes~


Slimbridge WWT D3100  24-03-2012 14-58-39


On Saturday, we made another trip to Slimbridge WWT. It was a lovely day to be out and about and we were not alone. Hundreds of people were out in full force taking advantage of the lovely weather. We walked across the bridge just in time to watch the natives gathering, waiting patiently for their food. What a delightful sight. We then made a pit stop at the wader shore exhibit to check out these very graceful Avocets and Black-winged Stilts amongst the Redshanks. I could sit here for hours.Slimbridge WWT D3100  24-03-2012 16-11-44From the Crane enclosure, we spotted this Crane trying to build a nest. Ooh…I’m quite excited. If this materialise, it meant that Cranes have been successfully bred in captivity. We walked towards the otter pool and watched the silky mammal vowing the crowd, had a peep at the field-mouse maze and head past a huge building site, dubbed the pink pool. I think this is where all the 6 species of flamingos will be housed. It will definitely be pretty in pink.Slimbridge WWT D7000  24-03-2012 16-34-048Then we circled back towards the Latin American flamingos and had a very nice surprise. Usually these graceful birds were always at the far end of the pond but not today. Look how close they were to the visitors. As usual, I couldn’t resist skipping over the stepping-stones. They were made just for (big) kids like me :-)Slimbridge WWT D7000  24-03-2012 16-50-09As we continued walking, we noticed that love was in the air. Everywhere, the males were being territorial and aggressive, hissing and chasing everything in sight. We couldn’t help observing this crow with its beak full of feathers, waiting to fly to her nest. A few Coots and Moorhens were already sitting on eggs and we even walked past a nesting Nene. I couldn’t wait to return again when all the eggs had hatched. Slimbridge will be like a huge nursery, full of fluffy, adorable chicks.Slimbridge WWT D300s X14  24-03-2012 15-11-010Finally we arrived at the hides. All we could see were hundreds and hundreds of Shelducks among the small flocks of Teal, Lapwing, Widgeon, Mallard, Greylag and Shoveler on the Tack piece. From the Holden Tower, we saw a Short-Eared Owl quartering above the reeds. Unfortunately, it was quite a distance away.. Chaffinches, goldfinches, robins, reed buntings, blue and great tits were taking turns to feed at the Willow Plantation feeding station.


We walked back to the main area and checked some of the more exotic ducks in the Asian enclosure . We fell in love with this Falsated Duck. Checkout those cool colours. We’d a wonderful day out and I’m sure we will be back again.Slimbridge WWT D7000  24-03-2012 16-21-049On Sunday, we had another nice day out at our favourite playground. As usual, the car-park was overflowing. It was quite quiet. I think most of the natives were having a siesta. Near the Kingfisher pool, a group of people were crowding around a stretch of bushes. Hmm…one of them told us that they had spotted a slither of grass snakes which they believed had just emerged from their den. We didn’t spot any and with these huge crowds about, I bet the poor creatures had slithered back into the deep undergrowth.


We stopped at Baldwin Hide. The Lapwings and the Gulls were squabbling as usual. From time to time, the Oyster Catcher chased each other around the lake. The Coots and Moorhens were being territorial as usual. We saw the pair of Great Crested Grebe sleeping, bobbing peacefully in the lake. Then they woke up and started doing their mating dance, mirroring each other perfectly and then…they went to sleep again. What an anti-climax.Brandon Marsh D200 X2  25-03-2012 14-04-47We also checked out the East Marsh Hide. We heard the Cetti Warblers warbling around us but they were nowhere to be seen. We only spotted the Little-Ringed Plover when it was been chased away by a Lapwing. 3 Common Snipes were well-camouflaged beside a tree stump. It had been a long day for us and we decided to go home. But first, we checked the overflow car-park and was entertained by a flock of Long-tailed tits feeding and flirting from tree to tree. I just loved these adorable birds. They always make me smile. We’d a lovely start to the week and I hoped everyone did too. Brandon Marsh D7000  25-03-2012 15-58-050


March on. Do not tarry. To go forward is to move toward perfection.


March on, and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones on life’s path.


~Khalil Gibran~


Slimbridge WWT D300s X14  24-03-2012 15-07-052