Sunday, 29 December 2013

A Wild Christmas Tale

Christmas is forever, not for just one day,
for loving, sharing, giving, are not to put away
like bells and lights and tinsel, in some box upon a shelf.
The good you do for others is good you do yourself.
Peace on Earth, good will to men,
kind thoughts and words of cheer,
are things we should use often
and not just once a year.

Norman Wesley Brooks
U.S. design engineer
1923 – 2002

Coventry Ipad mini  08-12-2013 21-31-39

Oh what a Christmas the whole country had. The weather was most definitely on the naughty list after we came across some really nasty conditions. Britain was battered by a freak weather system that brought 100mph winds and blizzards. A so-called Storm Emily wreaked havoc toppling trees and tearing off roof tiles. Weather forecasters named the storm after the Wuthering Heights author Emily Bronte, who died this month 165 years ago. The unsettled weather was being caused by several low pressure systems from the jet stream which were air currents that act as a barrier between warm and cold weather, sweeping across the north Atlantic, between the British Isles and Iceland.

The nightmares began before Christmas as the getaway was crippled by storms, with thousands blacked out and flood-risk families fleeing homes. Millions of travellers abandoned their journeys home for Christmas as torrential rain and hurricane winds tore across the country. The transport network was crippled on one of its busiest days of the year, with trains cancelled and roads closed. Thousands faced misery over the festive period, with hundreds of flood alerts and power cuts leaving homes in darkness and wrecked the festive holidays. My thoughts and prayers were with those affected.

I counted my blessings that the Midlands were spared from all these. We heard things crashed and clattered outside as the gale force howled around the casa. We experienced minor mishaps around the garden including the shed being blown to bits and the fences biting the dust. We spent Xmas morning dismantling the shed, clearing the mess and covering whatever that was left of the shed and its contents under a huge waterproof tarpaulin and weighed it down with bricks to stop from being blown away. Really not the best start to the day.

Indoors, the Xmas CD was blaring away.  The 15 year old tree looked stunning with decorations that I remembered where they came from. This year, due to the weather and time constraints, we haven’t been able to make our annual pilgrimage to Solihull. I felt like there was a black hole on the Xmas tree because I wasn’t able to hang a bauble from John Lewis. That was one of the main reasons I go there, apart from admiring the shoes at Schuh, purchasing bits and bobs from Lakeland and coming home with something from M & Co. On Xmas eve, I called my mother-in-law to wish her a very Merry Christmas.

The perfect Christmas tree?  All Christmas trees are perfect! 

~Charles N. Barnard  

I spent the afternoon preparing the main meal. We’d roasted turkey crown based on Delia’s recipe. I steamed sliced carrots and Savoy cabbage together. Brussels sprouts were steamed separately because Babe couldn’t stand them. I loved them but will only have them during Xmas. I roasted a huge tray of cubed potatoes, carrots, parsnips, courgettes and aubergines. We’d our roast with fluffy Yorkshire puddings and lashings of onion gravy. Yum… yum.  Even though there was only the two of us, the table was still dressed up to the nines.   A festive occasion was a special occasion after all! We’d a very zingy non-alcoholic ginger beer with the meal and finished off with our favourite dessert, an almondy Daim torte

“It is tenderness for the past,

courage for the present,

hope for the future.

It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow

with blessings rich and eternal,

and that every path may lead to peace.

~Agnes M. Pahro “What is Christmas”~

I was off work from the 21/12 until the the 6th of January. Woo…hoo 16 days of me time and time with Babe. No freezing mornings at the bus-stop, no deadlines to meet, no chores to complete and no lists to double-checked. Mornings were spent lounging in the comfort of colourful onesies and warm woolly socks, gazing out of the patio doors with a huge mug of coffee, watching the birds having a party at the bird-feeder. A day for snuggling on the sofa surrounded by piles of cushy cushions, blankets and a hot-water bottle somewhere by my feet. A tower of books waiting to be read. A very, very nice day.    At Home in Coventry

Every few days, we checked out what the natives were up to at our favourite playground, no matter what the weather was like. By the visitor centre, we saw flocks of Redwings feeding on the berries and some swirling around in the sky. These Scandinavian winter migrants were UK’s smallest true thrush. The creamy strip above the eyes and orange-red flank patches and underwing were very distinctive. We stood silently watching them stripping the berries, moving from bush to bush. When they spotted us, a whistling flight call trailed behind them as they flew off. We managed to photograph this song thrush feeding on the berries.Brandon Marsh - Winter Scenes

A few times, we were stopped in our tracks. The footpaths were flooded. But that didn’t stop us and we checked out the other hide, the Wright Hide. We could hear the high-pitched rapid ‘deed-lit’ tweets from the Goldfinches as we walked under the trees. The large island in front of the hide was nearly submerged. Lapwings. Wigeons, Cormorants, Shovelers and Gulls shoved each other on the mud-banks. We were delighted when a Little Grebe and a female Golden Eye swam leisurely in front of us. Brandon Marsh - Winter Scenes

But the highlight for us were the stars of the season, the starlings. Around the UK, throughout the autumn and winter months, hundreds of thousands of starlings turned the sky black. These birds came together in huge clouds, wheeling, turning and swooping in unison. We were lucky to have seen them in Aberystwyth, Gretna Green and now in our own backyard. A jaw-dropping and one of the UK's most incredible wildlife spectacle. We have watched, photographed and videoed them from Carlton Hide, the screen and near the Newlands.

Brandon Marsh - Winter Scenes

Early evening, just before dusk, was the best time to see them as they performed their aerial dance and chose their communal night-time shelter which happened to be the reed-beds. Small flocks began flying in and wheeling together to form moots or smaller congregations. A starling flock like this was called a murmuration, a word that perfectly described the rustle of thousands of pairs of wings.  One of the most dazzling displays in the natural world, as the flock changed shape, one minute like a colossal wisp of smoke, the next a tornado, the next a thundercloud blocking the light. These extremely synchronized manoeuvres, seemed to occur spontaneously, or in response to an approaching threat. We spotted at least 2 pairs of Sparrow-hawks hoping to catch their supper. Brandon Marsh - Winter Scenes

Starlings in Winter

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

Brandon Marsh - Winter Scenes

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theatre of air,
they swing over buildings,

Brandon Marsh - Winter Scenes

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

Brandon Marsh - Winter Scenes

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

Brandon Marsh - Winter Scenes

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

Brandon Marsh - Winter Scenes

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.

Brandon Marsh - Winter Scenes

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

Brandon Marsh - Winter Scenes

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard.  I want

Brandon Marsh - Winter Scenes

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

Brandon Marsh - Winter Scenes

- Mary Oliver, from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays (2003)~

We also checked out another famous startling murmuration display at the Otmoor RSPB, a 22 hectare nature reserve of wet meadows and reed-beds. It was a little off the beaten track and only a car wide. We were quite surprised to see the gravel car-park full and thankfully, we just managed to squeeze in. We wrapped up warm and  followed the signs. It was a totally open site and we’d to walk along a kilometre visitor trail before we arrived at the reed-beds. It was a very muddy walk with plenty of ice patches.  Roadtrip to RSPB Otmoor

It was nearly dark when we arrived at the site. A dozen or so photographers, twitchers and visitors were already taking positions. A few raptors were continually flushing the flocks of Lapwings, Golden Plovers, Wigeons and Teals. From time to time one of them would head out causing mass panic among the other birds and creating the stunning spectacle of the Lapwings and Goldies wheeling in the sunshine set against an inky darkening sky. We’d coffee and a Cornish pasty to ward off the cold. We saw small moots flying in but headed elsewhere. It was getting cold and dark and we’d a long drive home. We decided to walk back to the car and when we were on the visitor trail, we saw a large murmuration flying back to the site. £$%&*!!! We watched quite a short but amazing display before they rained down into the reeds. Then  it was time to head home. RSPB Otmoor

We also made a few trips to Draycote Waters. Some days were just perfect for a stroll in the countryside, with patches of winter sunshine. As soon as we parked the car, I noticed a few Redwings and Goldfinches in the trees at the far end of the car park. But they were too flighty to pose. We climbed up the Farborough bank trying not to get run down by the masses of shiny, new bikes, tricycles and skateboards. Aah…it was the day to test their Xmas pressies. There was a yacht competition going on and it was another photo opportunity for us. Draycote Waters - A storm brewing

It was a lovely day for a competition. The sun was out and the wind was really whipping up by this time. I’m glad that we were heavily layered against the winds and the cold. We could see the sailors really relishing the challenge as they struggled to keep their yachts upright. Along the path too, we’d to dodge the runners, walkers, cyclists, doggies and buggies. By the fishing pontoon, we spotted the adorable Little Grebes congregating among the feisty coots. Grey wagtails were playing hide-and-seek among the rocks. Draycote Waters - late visit

I met my colleague with her partner who were also taking advantage of the window of relative calm and bright sunshine between the downpours and the gales. We’d a little natter before continuing our adventures. As we approached the Spit, Babe asked a fellow photographer whether they’d seen anything.  They’d spotted a few rarities but all of them were feeding in the middle of the lake. Sigh … We continued walking and then this Great Northern Diver popped up right by the rocks below us. We were so stunned and all you could hear were our cameras rattling away. How lucky was that. Draycote Waters - A storm brewing

We stood there watching this very handsome solitary diver coasting along the lake. It seemed to be unconcerned by our presence and cameras. GND was one of the largest diving birds seen around Britain. It was in its winter colours with a grey head and back, with a white neck and underside. It was also known as the Common Loon in America due to its eerie, haunting cry. Like other divers, they were powerful underwater swimmers, catching fish with their thick, dagger-like bills by sight. Draycote Waters - A storm brewing

We were so engrossed by this handsome beauty that we nearly missed this female Red-breasted Merganser, another diving duck that belong to the sawbill family. This was due to the long, serrated bills which was used for gripping fish. Check out the rusty head and a greyish body. We felt so blessed to have seen these 2 handsome birds. Draycote Waters - A storm brewing

Along the grassy banks too, we were entertained by by a flock of meadow pipits, a common bird of open country. We watched their undulating flights with their ‘tseep’ calls and tinkling songs as they glide down to the grassy slopes. A small, brown, streaky bird, it was the commonest songbird in upland areas. In winter, they were quite gregarious and gather in small flocks. When we got closer, they suddenly flew into the air with typical jerky flight. Draycote Waters - late visit

Irish legend has it that if a meadow pipit host climbs into a cuckoo’s mouth, which it often appears to be trying to, the end of the world will come. I hoped that it wasn’t stupid enough to do that because it will definitely mean its end, never mind the world. According to the RSPB, their numbers had been declining since the mid-1970’s, resulting them being included on the amber list of conservation concern. I’m pleased that they were doing well here. Draycote Waters - late visit

We noticed black clouds over Draycote village and dashed towards the hide just missing a very heavy wintry shower hit! Hailstones crashed around us. Phew !!! The hide began to get a bit crowded as more people rushed in for cover. But thankfully, not for long. We took the opportunity to warm our cockles with Cornish pasties, washed down with hot coffee.  When we could see through the windows, we spotted a few Golden Eyes and some were even displaying. A drake Smew was also in sight at the further end. Draycote Waters - A storm brewing

And then the piece de resistant, the famous albino squirrel came over and started feeding on the bird-feeder. I was hyper-ventilating with excitement. We must be one of the last to see this beauty and it was worth it. According to wildlife experts the odds against a pure white squirrel being born were one in 100k. With a grey squirrel population of over 2.5 million in the UK, this meant that there were only 25 white ones out there at any one time. And how very blessed we were, that one of them happened to live here. Draycote Waters - A storm brewing

Albinos don't have very good eyesight and hearing. These and the fact that they stood out from the crowd like a beacon, made them a very easy target for any predators, as they don’t have the natural benefits of camouflage. This bushy-tailed critter lacked melanin and was pure white with no markings and with un-pigmented pink eyes. How he managed to survive here was truly remarkable. When it became startled, it would make itself as still and as flat as possible against the feeder, thinking that it blended in perfectly, just like the common squirrels behaved. Draycote Waters - late visit

And now, when comes the calm mild day, as still such days will come,
To call the squirrel and the bee from out their winter home;
When the sound of dropping nuts is heard, though all the trees are still,
And twinkle in the smoky light the waters of the rill,
The south wind searches for the flowers whose fragrance late he bore,
And sighs to find them in the wood and by the stream no more.

~William Cullen Bryant (American Writer, 1794-1878)~

Draycote Waters - late visit

It had been a wonderful Christmas break. And whether you believe this was the night of the birth of Christ or a pagan festival or just a date in the calendar, we took this opportunity to wish you


May you have the gladness of Christmas which is hope;
The spirit of Christmas which is peace;
The heart of Christmas which is love.

~Ada V. Hendricks~

Draycote Waters - Winter light

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

'Twas the night before Christmas

"December is the twelfth and final month of the Gregorian calendar and the first month of winter.  It derives it's name from the Latin word decem, meaning ten, as December was the tenth month of the oldest Roman calendar.  The Latin name is derived from Decima, the middle Goddess of the Three Fates who personifies the present."
Daily Lore :  December~

I really don’t know where the days were disappearing to lately. I no sooner started one week before it has ended and the new month was beginning. The days seemed to be slipping by unseen. And I’m playing catching-up with my blog, again. Aaargh…

It was the last month of the year. As we drove through the neighbourhood, Christmas lights were up on the streets, windows, in the shops and on the trees. December nights with twinkling lights were magical things that stir the hearts and souls. They always made me smile and feel all fuzzy inside. My tree and decorations were already up and the cards addressed and stamped, ready for posting. It made me giddy with excitement.  I just love all celebrations. Always have and always will. It was about the feelings that abound during this time of year. The season of goodwill and peace on earth towards everyone, that feeling of love which seemed to be in abundance. A time to reconnect with loved ones and honour tradition.

I was chuffed with my home-made natural wreath, all sourced from the garden. It was worth to be out in the cold, wet and windy morning searching for the materials. There was ivy, leyland cypress firs, cotoneaster berries, rosemary and thistles beautifully tied in the wreath. I made 2 and one was hanging on the kitchen door. I think, after Christmas was over, I’m going to hang them on the doors upstairs. They were just too lovely to be thrown away.At Home in Coventry

“Symbolizing eternal hope, the wreath goes round and round. And where it start or ends cannot be found. Woven of things that grow – for life, and hung for holiday delight.”


I started the month with an invitation to a St. Andrew’s Day celebration at the Post-Graduate Hub. The festive season had now begun. The patron saint of Scotland, it fell on November 30 which was on a Saturday and that was why they had the party on the next working day. There was a lot of folklore associated with St Andrew's Day, particularly around young women, who hoped to marry. At midnight, as November 29 becomes November 30, they prayed to be shown signs about their future husbands. They peeled an apple in such a way that the peel remained in a single piece and threw this over their shoulders. The shape that the peel formed on the ground indicated the first letter of their future husbands' names. Hmm…good luck.

St Andrew's Day was often a celebration of general Scottishness with traditional food, music (especially bagpipes) and dancing. The staff at the Hub were also garbed in tartan and rocking some very sexy kilts. Scottish music was piped in and we had fun with the quizzes. The table was groaning with yummy kippers and smoked salmon on oatcakes, melt-in-the mouth buttery shortbreads and teeth-crunching tablets. I loved this table lined with Irn Bru, Drambuie, Glenmorangie whisky and Red Label. Warwick University Ipad mini  02-12-2013 13-38-37

Babe and I attended an evening talk about badgers vaccination at our favourite playground. At Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, the badger vaccination programme was in its second successful year. We listened about their progress at the end of the vaccination season and learnt what they’d achieved and learnt so far. There was footage of the badgers (and other animals). We saw the kits used and find out what their plans were for the upcoming year. Each badger vaccine costs £20 and every trap £100. Staff time to carry out the baiting of traps and injections were significantly expensive. Vaccination of badgers helped reduced the spread of the bovine TB. Recent studies had shown that vaccinating one third of uninfected badgers in a set helped unvaccinated cubs less likely to test positive for the disease. We met a few badger cull activists but due to time constraints, we were not able to have any proper conversations. I salute their dedication. Just stay safe.

Then it was time for my mid-year annual review. Groan…The acting manager wanted to give an update to our new manager when he takes up his post after the new year. We went through the objectives that I’d set out early in the year and see how many I’d completed. I was very surprised to see that I’d done all and even added more to my list. Whoop…whoop. A big pat on my back. I was impressed :-)

Everytime another review comes out, I let out a deep breath”

~Michael Chabon~

On the weekend, we went to Bradgate Park to check the Christmas Fayre.  And thousands of others had the same idea. We drove around twice before we managed to get a parking space. One of the overflow car-parks was used for the fair. Wrapped up warm we trekked towards the very muddy field to check out the stalls. Carol singing by the local school kids were ringing in our ears. But they were drowned by these amazing chain saw wood carving demonstrations. We spent some time here checking out the lovely sculptures and they weren’t cheap.Bradgate Park Christmas Fair 2013

We gave the stalls selling local produce, arts and crafts and food a miss. The queues to get into the festive fayre at the Conservatory Tea-room was just too long.The flyer indicated the presence of alpacas but we couldn’t find any. Parents with children were queuing for the Santa’s woodland grotto. Santa was going to have his hands full. In the end, we checked out the living history arena and watched a war demonstration by members of the Sealed Knot. They were re-enacting a skirmish which was a very small-scale of military tactics of the Civil War period involving pikemen with their 16 foot pike. I don’t want to be at the end of that.Bradgate Park Christmas Fair 2013

Nearby we spotted this very handsome bird of prey checking out the crowd. Unfortunately, it was being handled by a very grumpy handler who looked like she doesn’t want to be here. No wonder she was standing alone, on her own in the midst of the festiveness. Bah…humbug. Bradgate Park Christmas Fair 2013

“Take hope from the heart of man and you make him a beast of prey”


We left the fayre and headed to the deer park. A lovely horse-trap was waiting for passengers taking the visitors for a short ride through the park. A trap was a light, two-wheeled horse-drawn carriage, accommodating about 2-4 persons. It was a hit with the children. I loved the sharp, hollow sound, as the horse’s hoof struck the pavement, clop…clop..clop. We waved to the children as they went clomping passed us. Bradgate Park Christmas Fair 2013

We couldn’t walk along the banks of the River Lin that flowed through the park. It had been raining for some time and overflowed its bank, making it very muddy and very slippery. We spotted our favourite Widgeon downstream among a flock of mallards. I brought a loaf of bread and had a ball feeding them. He was making a lot of noise, chasing away the other ducks even though there were plenty of bread bobbing up and down in the water. It began to be a bit chaotic when a flock of gulls joined in the party. Bradgate Park - Dark dayWe spotted a herd of Red Deer well camouflaged among the bracken by the river. From their body stand, we knew that they were waiting for the right moment to cross the river to get to the open fields. We noticed that some people were getting too close to the deer and some with children. These were wild animals for heaven sake. Check out those antlers. The sound of  clop…clop..clop.  of horse’s hoof struck on the pavement spooked the deer and they went scuppering back into the undergrowth.Bradgate Park - Dark day

We waited for a while and they came back. As soon as the coast was clear,  a herd waded through the river and thundered across the pavement towards the open field. All breaking for freedom. It was a lovely sight to behold, an encounter that always impressed me. The rutting season was long over and they had left the matriarchal herd and were now regrouping with other unrelated stags for winter. After hundreds of photographs, it was time to head home.Bradgate Park - Dark day

I’d to sit for 2 days of Faceted Application of Subject Terminology (FAST) webinar. It was designed as a lightweight derivative of the Library of Congress subject headings that would be easy to learn and worked well with faceted discovery systems. But I found it a cheap way of employing non-professionals as cataloguers to assign subject headings. It was a simple, low-cost, low-effort approached to describing web –resources with minimal effort resource description. It was a cost-cutting exercise. For me, it was down-grading my profession as a professional metadata librarian. I was surprised that the Library of Congress was promoting it. I’ve informed my colleagues that I refused to have FAST anywhere in the catalogue and will not implement it!!!! Breathe in and out very S-L-O-W-L-Y.

After all that ranting, it was a marathon feeding session all in the name of the festive season. First was ‘not a Xmas’ lunch with JH at the Warwick Arts Centre. We’ve been trying to meet for lunch for ages and even at the last minute, there was a change of plans. We’d a lovely time catching up over a spicy Thai vegetable soup and mopped up with a lovely seed roll. Then there was a Xmas party with my exercise class.  I brought nibbles from Iceland and added to the groaning table. There was soo much food and all were very rich. I guess we will be doing lots of exercises after this. And I was not wrong :-)Shots from Warwick University

“Christmas begins about the first of December with an office party and ends when you finally realize what you spent, around April fifteenth of the next year. “

~P.J. O'Rourke, Modern Manners ~

While we were having our meal, there was the lucky dip and everyone got something. It was a festive candle for me. Then, it was a Strictly Dancing session. The ladies can really dance. It was fun learning the Waltz and Ballroom dancing. And then more food was consumed. Next, was passing the parcel and I won a set of toiletries. Back to eating again. I joined them for musical chairs where I was outfoxed by a 70-year old. Well, it was either that or I’d to but her out of the chair. We left at 9 pm when the party was still going strong.

My colleagues and I had a departmental ‘not a Xmas’ lunch at the Burn Post Inn. This was for CC who won’t be joining us for the main Xmas lunch because she will be in Canada to celebrate Xmas with her parents. We drove to the Inn which was just 10 minutes away. Since we weren’t having a Xmas meal, our table was away from the merry crowd, wasn’t decorated and no festive hats either. I had the St. Louis-Spiced Salmon Jambalaya with spicy jalapeño and paprika rice, topped with a maple syrup. It was superb. For desserts, I chose the Triple Chocolate cheesecake. We’d a wonderful time and it was also a thank you to JF for being a brilliant acting manager.Shots from Warwick University

As usual to end the year, the annual  Library Staff Open Day was upon us. It was like Marmite, you either love or loathe it. Moi just tolerated it. We were encouraged to be festive and wear a Xmas jumper. I’d to search high and low and finally found one in Asda. I wore it with pride especially as I suggested wearing it for a good cause. Friday 13 December was deemed Christmas Jumper Day, for which people were encouraged to wear their most embarrassing jumpers to raise money for Save the Children charity.

All money raised from Christmas Jumper Day activities helped saved the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children. In the world’s poorest countries, more than 7 million children die every year from easily preventable causes like diarrhoea and malnutrition. Simple solutions, like vaccines and mosquito nets save lives – so by getting friends and colleagues to take part in Save the Children’s Christmas Jumper day and donating £1, we can help make a real difference.

The Open Day started with  bribes of delicious Danish pastries all washed down with gallons of tea and coffee. I’d to bring my own herbal tea bags because they weren’t provided. Then an hour briefing by the Librarian and his deputies about the exciting things that had happened in 2013 and going to happen in 2014. Next was a talk on Widening participation at Warwick by the senior assistant registrar. Not the usual topic that we were used to but still an eye-opener.

After the talk, we went to the seminar room to check out a few exhibitions and displays that had been organised by members of staff. There was PIIRUS a search engine designed for researchers within the university to find their research match; ENQUIRE; PG Hub international days; ENCORE, WRAP and Q&A’s on social media. There was a Christmas wish tree where we were encouraged to hang a wish. One of my colleagues wished for the availability of wi-fi to staff who were working in the ground floor and I seconded that. Then it was lunch time. The organisers laid out a very good spread and for the first time more and varied vegetarian finger foods. We tucked in while trying to do the musical Christmas quizzes. It was a lovely end to a lovely afternoon.

Finally, the day we all waiting, our Christmas lunch at Scarman arrived. At 12 pm, my colleagues and I made our way to the restaurant. I encouraged everyone to dress up as I wore a beautiful traditional green sequinned baju kurung. We didn’t have time to linger and was taken to our seat immediately. Our starter of fresh melon was already laid out. We pulled the crackers, laughed and groaned at each other’s silly jokes and donned the paper hats. We enjoyed the starter and tucked into thickly, sliced bread.Shots from Warwick University

Then we proceeded to the cold buffet spread. I’d the cold salmon cubes, chilly prawns, sundried tomatoes and peppers, spicy Indian snacks and potato salad. I didn’t overfill my plate because I still have a main meal to look forward to. As usual, we checked out each others plate and having a taste. After a slight gap and a glass of water, we queued for our main meal. I chose the baked crusted sea bass minus the trimmings. I felt they were too heavy and helped myself to the cold buffet again. It was just right. I finished the meal with an Eton Mess. It was the only one alcohol and gelatine-free. Then we adjourned to the bar for coffee and mince pies. We could have stayed here the whole afternoon but we’d an office to go to.

To end the working week for the year (for a majority of us, moi included), we said good-bye and good luck to 2 wonderful colleagues. The first do was for JS who was moving down the road. I contributed spring rolls to the already groaning table. We’d a lovely time polishing the food. I’m going to miss her very sparkly cup-cakes. Later, in the afternoon, it was another do for SA who was leaving us for greener pastures in the University of Birmingham. I gave her a Coventry tea-towel to remind her of her stay here in Warwick everytime she used it. We were going to miss both of you. 

My holiday started on the 21st December which was the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. We were on the upward curve again and the light strengthened. The solstice was also known as Midwinter. The word solstice derived from Latin, Winter Solstice meaning Sun set still in winter. Almost everything in the garden was slowly dying back except for this Hellebore which lit beautifully during the gloomy, cold days.At Home in Coventry

“Winter solitude..

in a world of one colour

the sound of wind”

~Matsuo Basho (1644-1694)~

Babe and I braced ourselves and went shopping for those last bits and pieces for Christmas. The crowds weren’t as near horrible as I thought they would be and it was kind of cheering to be amongst them. It was very tempting to buy those BOGOF tins of sweets, biscuits and chocolates. We’ve a mountain of them piled up like a Xmas tree on the dining table. Everything had been prepared and just waiting for the big day.Out and about in Coventry

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.’

~Major Henry Livingston Jr. (1748-1828)~
(previously believed to be by Clement Clarke Moore


A very Happy 80th birthday to Abah. Semoga panjang umur, murah rezeki dan sihat selalu.

Congratulations to HH when a stork flew in with a baby bundled in a blue cloth.

Innalilla wa inna lilla hirajium Mak Teh who had gone to meet her maker.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

November Meanderings

So dull and dark are the November days,

The lazy mist high up the evening curled,

And now the morn quite hides in smoke and haze;

The place we occupy seems all the world

~John Clare, November~

Roadtrip to Donna Nook

After a month away, I couldn’t wait to start work and it was on an auspicious day, the first day of the Islamic New Year. Islam has a lunar based calendar with 354 days. The New Year date changes every year as the Islamic Calendar is 11 days shorter than the solar calendar. Maal Hijra or Islamic New Year was celebrated on the first day of Muharram (first Islamic month) and was counted from the year of the Hegira (anno Hegirae) the year in which the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) emigrated from his birthplace of Mecca to Yathrib (A.D. July 16, 622) to escape persecution. He later renamed it Medina.

I still have a clutter-free work station but not for long. My colleagues were queuing to inform me what I’d been missing when I was away. Thankfully, nothing much. We’d a departmental meeting where I was informed that we were going to have a new manager in January 2014 although management can’t confirm who!!! WTF…why the secrecy? GLW mentioned that the library were thinking of changing the library system from Millennium to Sierra and the magic word here was thinking. JF told us that RDA tool-kit was still unpaid which was a bit worrying for all of us. And we groaned out loud when he reminded us of the mid-year annual review.

We drove through Foleshill and the street was lit up with strings of light draped across the roads. Eid had gone and Christmas was a month away. Then I realised that it was Deepavali or the Festival of Lights. Another festival that marked the beginning of the Hindu New Year according to the Lunar calendar, a celebration of victory of goodness over evil and light over darkness. We’d chicken khorma with onion bhaji and saffron basmati rice for dinner. We ended with maruku, a traditional Indian savoury snack, given by my sister’s manager, all the way from Malaysia. Nanri*. This is a kolam which is a South Indian form of decoration, thought to bring prosperity to homes.Trip to Malaysia 2013

.Autumn arrives, array’d in splendid mein;

Vines, cluster’d full, add to the beauteous scene,

And fruit-trees cloth’d profusely laden, nod,

Complaint bowing to the fertile sod

~Farmer’s Almanac (1818)

The British skies also lit up on Guy Hawkes Night as fireworks of many colours and shapes light up the night sky. Revellers across the country were ooh’ing and aah’ing as the sky lit up with an array of beautiful colours and some interesting shapes. It was a a riot of light and colour with whizzes, bangs and pops filled up the air and bonfires blaze. It began with the events of 5th  November 1605, when Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, was arrested while guarding explosives the plotters had placed beneath the House of Lords. Celebrating the fact that King James I had survived the attempt on his life, people lit bonfires around London, and later the introduction of the Observance of 5th November Act enforced an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot's failure. In the morning as I walked to the bus stop the street were littered with spent rockets and the smell of sulphur lingered on.

At work, my colleagues and I joined the millions of people across the UK to observe a two-minute silence to mark Armistice Day. The anniversary of the World War One armistice  was signed 95 years ago and this year honoured members of the armed forces who have died in that war and in all conflicts since. Although I wore my Buckley Crystal Poppy brooch with pride, I still made a donation towards the poppy appeal.

Shots from Warwick University

"When you go home
Tell them of us, and say,
For their tomorrow
We gave our today"

~Kohima Epitaph~

We made our first trip this year to one of our favourite playground, Donna Nook Nature Reserve. We have been monitoring the number of pups and planned to visit when the number of pups born had reached 700. It was a lovely day and was 6C in the car. It was an easy drive, watching the sun rise on the horizon and we sang our hearts out to a new CD ‘Woman’ which was a compilation of songs from 59 female artists. Unfortunately, the new car-park was already full and as we made our way to the farmer’s field, a flock of Brent Geese greeted us. What a promising start.Donna Nook Seal Rookery

After parking the car and using the facilities, we wrapped up warm and joined the thousands who made the trip to witness one of natures most spectacular bonanza, a breeding grey seals colony. As we trekked up along the sand-dune, flocks of starlings were having a feast among the sea buckthorn bushes. From here, we could hear the mewing cries and as we looked towards the sea, there were hundreds of cows and their single white pups strewn along the beaches. As the beach got overcrowded, the cows had been driven inland and down into the sand dunes to deliver their babies. Donna Nook Seal Rookery

As usual, we walked along the chestnut-paling fence that ran the entire length of the beach. We jostled to get the best seat in the house. The adorable baby seals were very close to the fence, checking out the visitors who were very thrilled to see them, under the watchful eyes of their mothers. If you get too close, even behind the fence, don’t ignore the warning hisses. Appearing in shining white color at their birth, the baby seal’s fur darkened and begins to shed as they matured. We also spotted a few males slumbering about, bidding time and waiting for the females to be in season and ready to mate. Donna Nook Seal Rookery

We walked towards the main car-park where hundreds of people were pouring in to check out the spectacles. Along the route too were dozens of knowledgeable seal wardens to answer any questions from the visitors. More different aged pups were studded along the entire length of the beach and some were already moulting. We also saw a few Redshanks flew in and feeding along the mudbanks. We held our breadth when a few Pipits flew quite close to where we were standing. All you could hear were our cameras rattling away.    Donna Nook Seal Rookery

After thousands of shots, we walked back to the car to warm our cockles, with hot coffee from a thermos and cheese and onion pasties. Then it was a long drive home, driving though stunning sunsets as we bid the colony good-bye with promises that we will come again. We made a pit stop at the entrance to check this very unusual but identical building with an interesting history. Twin Chapel was built in 1879 and one was built on non consecrated ground and the other one on consecrated ground. RIP to those who were buried here.Roadtrip to Donna Nook

The next day, I took the bus and made a quick dash around the city-centre. I did a bit of shopping to fill up a box for the family in Malaysia. First stop was Primark. I got 2 pairs of single bed-sheets for my mum and a t-shirt for my father. I browsed a few shops and added a 2014 calendar, diary and key-chain. From M&S, a couple boxes of sweets, chocolates and biscuits went in as well. On my way to the bus-stop, I stopped to listen to this band belting out some festive songs. I wished I could have stayed longer, but I got a bus to catch.Out and about in Coventry

At work, I attended a Webinar on Assessment strategies for cataloguing managers. Although I am not a manager (yet), I am keen to develop my skills and learnt about the variety of assessment techniques and hopefully develop a plan for cataloguing.  These qualitative assessment activities, when conducted regularly and methodically, helped managers and administrators understand the impact and value of the work that we do for our customers. Unfortunately, I found it a bit dry and very theoretical. This webinar explored the use of customer service surveys, focus groups, quality initiatives, benchmarking, and other methods to evaluate and assess the work that we do.

Then there was the E-book review, a discussion with the relevant interested parties about the procedures of ordering individual books, the links to web-cat and the difficulties we faced  when ordering one title from 2 different aggregators. I suggested that we invited student representatives because they were our main patrons but nobody listened :-(. We agreed not to publicise the patron-driven acquisition platform because it went AWOL for a while. We found out that we were paying exorbitant prices for heavily restricted digital content and were spending more money on significantly fewer books. It was a rip-off. We thrashed a lot of ideas but still haven’t found the solution. Another meeting perhaps… Birmingham Ipad mini  29-11-2013 16-01-34

But it wasn’t all work and no play. I managed to persuade Babe to accompany me to the Champion of Champions Snooker Tournament at the Ricoh Arena. I had always enjoyed watching snooker and it was in my bucket list to attend a major tournament. It would be wonderful to tick this off my list. The 888casino Champion of Champions was a brand new event featuring winners of all major tournaments over the past 12 months. The players were grouped into four groups of four and contest semi-finals and then a final all on the same day. The winners then moved forward to the weekend where there were two semi-finals on Saturday followed by the final on Sunday. The total prize-fund was £270,000 with £100,000 going to the champion. Champion of Champions Snooker

I was hyperventilating with excitement when I got to attend the semi-finals between my favourite player, world number one, Neil Robertson, against the number 15, Ali Carter. And the icing on the cake, was he sat opposite to where we were sitting. Whoop…whoop. Since it was televised live, we witnessed first hand what happened in the background. The seats were quite small and very uncomfortable, especially for Babe. As a result, we watched it half-way and went home where I resumed watching the match in front of the tv. It was a thrilling match where he beat Carter 6:5 in an absorbing Group 4 final. Unfortunately, Robertson lost to O’Sullivan in the next game.Champion of Champions Snooker

I attended another leaving do for Val who had been working in the library for about 30 years. Phew… what a service. Everybody contributed something and off course, I brought my ever-popular spring rolls. In fact, everyone expected me to bring that. Val wanted a small and intimate do but as usual, nobody listened. Everyone turned up and it became a very loud party. The highlight was when JS bake cupcakes with Val’s face printed on edible rice paper. We’d so much fun licking Val’s face off. What an amazing send-off. Happy retirement.Shots from Warwick University

We also checked out our favourite local playground. Earlier during the week, Babe had photographed a pair of Golden Eyes and I wanted to see it for myself. Unfortunately, only the female was about and she was busy diving for food. A lonely Fly Agaric was seen outside Baldwin Hide. A large flock of Wigeons were busy grazing on the banks opposite East Marsh Hide. At Carlton Hide, we witnessed a small and brief display of starling murmuration. We made our way home as red skies appeared above us.  Brandon Marsh - Autumnal scenes

We welcomed my aunt and her family who were here for Syuhada’s graduation at Kent University. They decided to make a quick tour of the UK in a mobile home while they were here. What a trouper. After checking out Stonehenge and Baths, they made their way to our casa. We expected them to arrive for lunch but they turned up for dinner. We’d a lovely long chat and they relayed their hilarious adventures. By 10 pm, our visitors had gone quiet.At Home in Coventry

Around 5am, the casa was awakened. Our visitors were up and about and I guess they wanted to continue their adventure early. I got up and asked Izzatti to make waffles for breakfast. We continued our conversations and tucking into home-made waffles and shop-brought croissants, all washed down with mugs of hot coffee. It was hilarious because they left the house at 8am!!! They were driving up to Manchester, camping at Lake District, Liverpool, Edinburgh and then London. Phew …Have a safe trip.

We don't need sugar, flour or rice or anything else. We just want to see our dear ones.

~Hafiz of Persia~

Since I’d taken the day off, we decided to make our final trip to Donna Nook. It was 5C when we left and were quite surprised to see a lot of traffic on the road. We managed to find a parking space in a very muddy car-park. If this stay the same, it will be the last time we parked here. It was freezing when we got out of the car and it made worse when the bitterly cold southerly winds descended upon us. And a fine drizzle had just started. I’m so glad that I’m wrapped up warm like the Michelin man. The sky was stormy and it melted into the sea. The sight of this seal cub suckling greeted us. Aaahhh….Donna Nook Seal Rookery They were dotted all over the place. Just lazing around on mudbanks; in water filled creeks or tucked up against the wooden picket fence, 1239 pups had been counted so far. Nearly all females had a sleepy, content pup huddled by its side. These young pups were suckled for 3 weeks during which time their weight will triple, and they gradually lose their creamy-coloured coat. Sometimes, it got very nasty when one cow moved towards another cow’s pup. They were very protective of their off-spring. But the sight of the males fighting was something else.Donna Nook Seal Rookery Again, the pups were fascinated with the visitors and some seemed to be acting up to the camera. Especially this cute guy with his black soulful eyes, a button nose and a cute smile. He made this cute pose of waving his front flipper at us, roll onto his back, playing peek-a-boo. It was just cute over-load. I could stay here forever.Donna Nook Seal Rookery Bird-wise, there were loads about. In the distance, we saw large flocks of starlings, goldfinches, starlings were swirling along the beaches. Then, a lovely charm of goldfinches with their yellow in the wings positively glowing in the sun flew closer. Turnstones and various gulls were feeding on the after-births. Shelducks were feeding along the mudbanks. A Pied wagtail flew very close to the beach and were very busy chasing after insects with its tail rapidly wagging along. A few Redshanks were spotted along the river banks. The cries of Curlews echoed around us. Donna Nook Seal Rookery We made our way to the farmer’s field to make use of its facilities. I knew we were cheating but we planned to buy a few vegetables to compensate. I bought a huge cabbage and cauliflower when we were here last week. Unfortunately, there was none on sale today. We walked back to the car, stopping along the way to rattle a few more shots. We ate our Cornish pasties all washed down with mugs of hot coffee from a thermos. Then, as the sun went down over Donna Nook, we joined the madding crowd on their way home, leaving the grey seals to bask in the winter sunshine. Goodbye and we will meet again in November 2014, Insyallah.Donna Nook Seal Rookery I ended November by attending my first 3rd annual Library Camp in Birmingham on a Saturday!!! I must be loco. SA and I took the 8.30 train from Coventry. There we met RT, KC and GLW and tried our best to make sense of the new Birmingham train station. After finding the right exit, we walked through cobbled streets and past the Christmas market where the traders were just about to open their stalls. This was also one of the reason why I wanted to attend the camp. We planned to check it out after the Camp is over.FBirmingham tripFinally, we arrived at our destination, the £188 million City of Birmingham Library which the Architects' Journal readers overwhelmingly selected as their favourite building of 2013. The 10-storey building, clad in aluminium rings, was designed by Dutch architecture practice Mecanoo and officially opened on September 3 by Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old schoolgirl who made Birmingham her home after being shot in the head for daring to campaign for girls’ education in her native Pakistan. Before unveiling a plaque, she said "Let us not forget that even one book, one pen, one teacher can change the world". Malala placed the last book on the shelves of the new Library, her own copy of The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. The first book to be placed on the shelves was The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. The library had been described as the largest public library in the United Kingdom, the largest public cultural space in Europe and the largest regional library in Europe. Birmingham trip We entered the Studio Theatre and mingled with the rest of the campers. Since this was my first Camp, I was more keen to observe. Librarycamp was an un-conference about libraries. A participant-driven, power-point free zone, with no keynotes, where the participants lead the agenda. Actually, there was no agenda until the participants make suggestions for what they wanted to talk about at the start of the day. It was about sitting around in huddles sharing problems, story telling and swapping ideas.Birmingham Ipad mini  30-11-2013 09-52-59After coffee and polishing off some delicious cup-cakes, it was time to introduce ourselves. I wasn’t happy that I was 2nd in line being shoved with a microphone. I felt it was better placed in individual sessions as you can’t remember everyone anyway and was quite intimidating to introduce myself to the whole room. And also a waste of time because there was 200 of us. 32 pitches were made and then the mad scramble to pick and choose. I chose only 3.Birmingham Ipad mini  30-11-2013 16-48-23SLA and I skipped the early morning sessions in favour of a self-guided tour of the spanking new Library. Stacked high over Centenary Square, it looked like a pile of enormous, geometrically-arranged birthday presents. Gift-wrapped from the bottom up alternately in gold and black, a gold hatbox sits at the top containing the Shakespeare Archive, with everything tied with ribbons adorned with interlocking black and silver circles. This futuristic exterior of interlacing rings aimed to reflect the city's canals and tunnels. Birmingham trip

A triple-height rotunda at the core of the day-lit, and naturally ventilated building was lined with thousands of books. In every direction, on every visible floor, elegant oak-framed book stacks fan out reassuringly. The journey through the library’s interior was ‘intended as a sequence of events and experiences, each discernible from the next’. As you glide up to level four on a travelator, the reading rooms became enclosed and calm. The jostling “accessibility” and getting together – the people, the noise – was concentrated below decks, in the yellow-walled children’s library flush with daylight, and in the handsome music library opening into the amphitheatre below Centenary Square. The library has more than 200 public access computers, theatres, an exhibition gallery and music rooms. It also had a brown roof garden with wild flower meadow and from the balconies we enjoyed panoramic views of the city. We didn’t stay long because it was bitterly cold. We left our coats downstairs. Birmingham trip

We checked the pièce de résistance, the Shakespeare Memorial Room inside the ‘crowning’ golden rotunda on the 10th floor. But the queue for the Glass lift which takes you from the 4th to the 7th floor was just too long. So we took the normal lift to the 7th floor and then walked up the steps to the 10th floor. The Room was designed in 1882 by John Henry Chamberlain for the first Central Library  reflect the Elizabethan age as a tribute to the playwright and poet, featuring carvings, marquetry and metalwork representing birds, flowers and foliage. When the old building was demolished in 1974 Chamberlain's room was dismantled and later fitted into the new concrete shell of the new library complex. When the Library of Birmingham was built, it was again moved to here. Birmingham trip

After an hour, we went back to the Studio Theatre and found out that it was lunch time. The long table was groaning with yummy food, brought by the attendees. I contributed a cheese and tomato quiche for the table and tucked into the delicious spread. It was also a good time to network and share experiences. Since we got an hour to kill before our first session, SLA and I went out to get some fresh air and checked out the Christmas stalls outside the Library. A outdoor ice-skating rink was on the door-step and a huge ferris wheel dominate the sky-line. It was lovely watching people having fun. Birmingham trip

And then it was time for our first session on coping with disasters in libraries. A dozen of us listened to disaster planning ideas from Kingston, Lambeth, Cambridge and Aberystwyth which among them had faced flooding, fires and pestilence. We found it interesting because our workplace don’t have any disaster planning in place and will definitely propose one to management. The next 2 sessions were very close to our hearts.  From the cataloguing demystified session, it was lovely listening to the views of those who’d just become or thinking of becoming a cataloguer. Birmingham Ipad mini  30-11-2013 16-48-30

The next session was an eye-opener on the improving of metadata to ensure effective usability. A high level cataloguing as it included experienced cataloguers and those interested in improving usability. It brought to the fore on how important metadata was in unlocking the secrets and treasures that were held within collections across the field. I was keen on the idea of using a dummy book with QR code to indicate that it was an e-book, virtual shelf and have a ‘fix the catalogue button’ if mistakes were spotted in the catalogue. I was also interested on investigating the tools from the National Library of Finland  called KDK-Alli/RecordManager, a metadata record management system intended to be used with a Solr-based discovery interface.

“The convenience of the public is always to be set before the ease of the cataloger”

~Charles Cutter~

By 4.30 pm, it was time to dismantle the camp with promises to keep in touch with new acquaintance and strengthened old ones. The 4 of us (SLA, KS, RT and moi) braved the thousands of people who were here for the Christmas market. A one-way system for crowd control measures was introduced but we were still jammed solid trying to pass each other. We were bumped, jostled and knock a few times while battling through the hordes, somewhat like shuffling through the set of a zombie movie, a bottle neck.Tempers flared.  It was difficult to see a free square inch of space. Birmingham trip

We were in the midst of the 13th annual Frankfurt Christmas market. To go to the market from Centenary Square, we’d to walk along the bridge of sheds and a proliferation of stalls selling everything from kangaroo to ostrich. The market was in 3 sections  that ran into each other and it was a representative of the flavours of the markets in Germany. The biggest market outside Germany, it stretched more than a mile. There were 190 wooden chalet-like stalls selling traditional Christmas decorations, jewellery, craft goods, handmade wooden toys, ceramics, candles etc.Birmingham trip

We didn’t try any of the Bratwurst or drink any gluhwein. It was a hassle to queue at the food and drinking stalls so we spent meandering about, checking things out. We huddled together, soaking up the magical atmosphere of the lights, the laughter of the crowds and inhaling the festive aroma of hot doughnuts and roasting chestnuts. There was live music and a fairground carousel adding to the festive atmosphere. We had a good laugh at the singing moose above the drinking tents. Then it was time to head home before purchasing a few sweet and salty giant pretzels and a gingerbread man.

Birmingham trip

Now Autumn’s fire burns slowly along the wood

~William Allingham~


Brandon Marsh - Autumnal scenes

*Thank you in Tamil.