Sunday, 1 September 2013

End of August Dog Days

For a few more days, we upheld the sweet illusion of high summer and then, gradually the bird songs and twittering faded away. The forests held a feeling of heaviness with a deep drowsiness beneath the heavy foliage of late summer. Everything seemed to slow down a bit. The turning wheel of the seasons rolled slowly through. Nobody seemed in much of a hurry as the last dog days of August fell upon us. The final days of the month held a short hiatus between the hard work in the garden of mid-summer to the brisk of autumn days.  Shots from our Home and Garden

Dog Days defined a time period or event that was very hot or stagnant, or marked by dull, lack of progress. The ancient Romans noticed that the hottest days of the year coincided with the appearance of Sirius, the Dog Star, in the same part of the sky as the sun. Sirius was the largest and brightest star in the sky, The Romans believed that this star contributed to the heat of the day. These last few days of August seemed to have hit the mark. It was especially so when the last bank holiday had just gone until the next one, which was Christmas, a mere 132 days away :-).

Spring flowers are long since gone

Summer’s bloom hangs limp on every terrace.

The gardener’s feet drag a bit on the dusty path and the hinge in his back is full of creaks.

~Louise Seymour Jones~

To celebrate my 4-day working week, I checked out the ‘Two Braggs Exhibition’ which was held to coincide with the 28th European Crystallography meeting. A 100 years ago in Germany Max Theodor Felix von Laue (1879-1960), Paul Karl Moritz Knipping (1883-1935) and Walter Friedrich (1883–1968) showed that X-rays could be diffracted by crystals. Laue was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1914.  Following this discovery, the unique partnership of father and son, William Henry Bragg (1862-1942) and William Lawrence Bragg (1890-1971) in England, successfully showed how x-ray diffraction could lend itself to the solution of crystal structures, for which they shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1915. For the first time, historic equipments, notebooks, honours, letters, films and artwork were shown to the public. This was also the first time that all these fascinating and inspiring collection of artefacts, art and correspondences were seen in one exhibition for the Centenary Year of the Braggs’ Nobel-prize winning research on X-ray crystallography.

I’d to miss my game of rounders this week because I hurt my heel. It happened when I got down the from bus and somehow stepped hard on the pavement. Ouch !!! The funny thing was that I can only feel the pain if I’m wearing flats but not when I’m in my heels. I was a bit miffed for missing the match against CSW. But to my utmost delight, they forfeited the game and Psycho Hitters were awarded 3 points. Whoop … whoop. We got 3 points by just turning up and not even hitting a bat. Crazy huh…

I attended another leaving do for AR organised by her department. She was adamant that she didn’t want one but nobody listened. She was leaving anyway :-). It was hard not to give a big party for someone who had worked for 2 decades. I contributed my usual vegetarian spring rolls for the already groaning buffet. A lot of staff turned up to wish her good luck and then tucked into the spread. I’m going to miss her loads and lots especially as she was my right hand regarding the Floor 4 materials. Thanks for all your help AR and we promised to meet up for coffee and a chinwag.Retirement Lunch at Warwick University

The trouble with retirement is that you never get a day off

~Abe Lemons~

Then another leaving do drinks and dinner for the lovely CM who was leaving us to further her education in European Studies at Bath University. I’d known CM for nearly 2 years and she was a lovely breath of fresh air. We went for drinks at the Varsity for colleagues who can’t make it to the dinner. HI paid for my refreshing cold elderflower drink. Thanks and we’d a wonderful time catching up with the rest. Although all of us worked in the library, we seldom see each other. Celebrations like this was a very good excuse to meet and keep-up-to-date with things.

At about 7pm, we made our way to the Queen and Castle in Kenilworth for dinner. HC gave me a lift and she took the scenic route through some leafy suburbs that I’d never seen before. We were the first to arrive at the pub overlooking the spectacular ruins of the 16th. century Tudor castle. At first, we planned to sit in the beer garden which was just perfect for the warm, sunny evening but it was packed. So we made our way upstairs and was given a private alcove under lofty wooden beams for our own intimate party. Amazing.Kenilworth - Colleague leaving do....Then it was time to ponder over the very extensive menu. We took a long time and finally I chose the spit roast chicken with hot piri-piri sauce, Asian cole slaw and potato frites in a separate bowl. It was delicious and very filling. The others shared a bottle of wine while HC (who’s  preggers) and I enjoyed a glass of cold, fizzy lemonade. Laughter and conversations echoed around us and when we looked out of the window was this amazing sunset. I’d creme brule for dessert to end the dinner. Not happy about it cos it was a bit runny and the top didn’t cracked when I knock it with a spoon. It had been a lovely night. After hugs and promises to keep in touch, I left the them to finish the wine while I waited for Babe under the shadows of the imposing castle.Kenilworth - Colleague leaving do....August 28th was Dream Day, an ethereal occasion that precipitated pondering of personal musings. It honoured the memory of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who delivered his famous I Have A Dream speech on August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. that became a keynote of the civil rights movement. He called for the end of racial injustice in the U.S. The march and its effects were credited with helping pass the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, both of which insured equal rights for all U.S. citizens.

There was a big celebration in the USA because it was the 50th anniversary of the speech. Thousands of people marched to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and down the National Mall to commemorate the anniversary of the speech. The event was in homage to a generation of activists who endured fire hoses, police abuse and indignities to demand equality for African Americans, and to the thousands who marched in the peaceful demonstration. And I wonder what does Dr. King think that 50 years later, there was an African American in the White House?  What would he thought of Obama?

There was a Yiddish exclamation, “If my zaidie were alive today, he’d turn over in his grave.” It occurred to me that had Martin Luther King been alive that was exactly what he’d have been doing. He would have been confounded by Obama’s record, whose presidency would have been unthinkable without him. King had three great objectives: human equality, social justice and peace. But given America’s distance still from anything remotely approaching equality, social justice and peace, you had to wonder what part of King’s dream, health care aside, Obama had actually been working on since becoming president.

King would have been aghast at the vast inequality that still characterized America today by the numbers of African Americans, Hispanics, immigrants, the poor of every race, the unemployed, the underemployed, the underpaid; dismayed at the thousand ways in which racism still plagued black America; distressed by the neoliberal economic advisers with whom Obama surrounded himself; startled by the corporate lobbyists who had so much influence in the White House; and shocked that the defence budget was a mind-blowing $660-billion a year. It was easier to buy a gun in America than it was to vote.

Given King’s passionate opposition to American aggression in Vietnam, we can be pretty sure what he’d have thought of the multiple American aggressions since he was murdered, from Cambodia to Nicaragua to Panama to Afghanistan to Grenada to Iraq. He might be spinning at proposition that a righteous America was entitled to punish Assad of Syria for his transgressions.

Nor would King have understood why chemical warfare that killed a thousand Syrians was worse than conventional weapons that killed 100,000 of them, nor why the US, the country that drenched the Vietnamese people with chemicals, the country that once enabled that Saddam to attack Iranian troops with chemical weapons, now thought chemicals must be a red line for other countries. But then Dr. King believed the American government to be, in his words, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world”.

RIP Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

It was also the 56th Independence Day of my home country, Malaysia. Malaysia first independence day was celebrated on 31st of August 1957 when  Malaysia gained her independence from the Ole Blighty, my home for now. The tag line for this year was ‘Malaysia ku berdaulat, Tanah tumpah darah ku’, which meant ‘My Malaysia, My sovereign homeland’. And yes, I am proud and happy to be a Malaysian. I spoke to my father on the phone that morning and he’d just been to a local celebration where there were colourful presentations, cultural and military performances and marches from various government and private agencies, brass bands and many more. I’m sooo jealous. I knew it was going to be an amazing party. Happy Independence Day,  Malaysia.  May it survived  all the ups and downs and carry on in the spirit of 1957, with the Constitution as the sole guiding light.  May all citizens live in peace and harmony. Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!

We ended the weekend with a trip to one of our favourite playgrounds, Bradgate Park. I just realised that we’d not been here for ages and were looking forward to what the natives had been up to. And we weren’t alone. A sunny Sunday saw the park buzzing with people making the most of the warm weather, a possible first sign of an Indian summer. Although the next season was knocking on the door, the weather gods had not agreed and we saw temperatures hit 23C. Bring it on. Bradgate Park - Hot and hazy

At the entrance, we looked up at the acorn-laden oak trees. Still very green for the Jays to be feeding on. Below the gnarled, ancient oaks was a herd of deer, busy foraging and being eaten alive by the midgets. They seemed oblivious to the hundreds of admirers standing around them, shoving camera lens and mobile phones. We were interested in a pair of young bucks who were testing their antlers with practice bouts. Not long now for the neck strengthening exercises and then the rut.  Bradgate Park - Hot and hazy We continued our walk along the slow-moving River Lin that flows through the park. Gulls and ducks were fighting for pieces of bread thrown into the river. We saw a flock of Mallards and among them was our favourite Wigeon. He was silent today, gliding through the waters picking up pieces of bread that floated towards him. It was good to see him again. He was looking a bit tattered because he was moulting. Bradgate Park - Hot and hazyFurther down, as the river meanders slowly, the banks were occupied with families having picnics and pond-dipping. Dogs, too, were having fun splashing in the cool water. It was a lovely afternoon and I think the whole of Leicestershire was having a party in the park. It was the last week of the school holidays and families were having their last get together. We walked around the wall and spotted these handsome deer having a siesta. We approached slowly, rattling a few shots and left them in peace, especially when one of them got up and gave us the evil eye.Bradgate Park - Hot and hazyWe checked out Lady Jane’s house and noticed that a few new informative panels were set up in the compound. We walked towards the lake to see if anybody was home. Nada…zilch…non. A flock of starlings were feeding among the numerous ant-hills and I crept slowly to get a good photograph. Unfortunately, I startled a Green woodpecker who flew off with a cry which set off the starlings. Aargh… but luckily the sightings of a few Small Coppers feeding made my day. Bradgate Park - Hot and hazyBabe was harassing the resident herd of deer with his camera and then went stalking after the Peacock. There was only one and he was at the further end of the enclosure, trying to escape the crowd. But, he can’t escape from us. I rustled a plastic bag and the handsome chap came running towards me. In the end, we’d to share a small piece of pancake or else he’ll be following me everywhere.Bradgate Park - Hot and hazyIt was beginning to feel very hot and we decided to call it a day. We walked along the path that was covered with brown bracken. A herd of deer was feeding towards Old John Folly. As we walked, a few Tortoiseshells flew past us. They seemed to be quite abundant among the bracken and heather. We stopped at the ice-cream vendor and had an ice-cream each to cool down. Bradgate Park - Hot and hazyWe made a pit stop at Groby Pool to see if any migrants had arrived. The usual Hybrid ducks, Canada Geese, White ducks, Mute Swans, Coots, Moorhens and Gulls were there. A lot of feathers were scattered around the pool. The natives have been moulting heavily. Dragonflies were patrolling the area but they weren’t settling down. The hedges were laden with blackberries. There will be plenty of food for the birds. On the drive home, I checked the electric pylons to see if the Buzzard was about. Not today.   Groby Pools SSSi - Hot and hazyAt home, apart from the butterflies and bees, we’d been inundated with moths. At night, they entered our casa through the windows and doors, attracted by the lights. They were hanging everywhere and we’d to do a bit of cleaning, clearing the spider webs in case they become someone’s snack. A good excuse to clear those cob webs, anyway. I bet the moths were regretting coming in because we were stalking them with our cameras. Some have quite subtle colouring but if you looked closely many have beautiful intricate patterns that evolved to aid camouflageShots from our Home and Garden

“Between our birth and death we may touch understanding,

As a moth brushes a window with its wing”

~Christopher Fry (1907-2005)~

Shots from our Home and Garden

They not only provided food for a variety of wildlife, including other insects, spiders, frogs, toads, lizards, shrews, hedgehogs, bats, moths played a vital role in telling us about the health of our environment. Since they were so widespread and found in so many different habitats, and were so sensitive to changes, moths were useful as indicator species. Monitoring their numbers and ranges can give us vital clues to changes in our own environment, such as the effects of new farming practices, pesticides, air pollution and climate change. Shots from our Home and Garden

Again it was up to us the “little people”, the thousands of garden ‘landowners’ making small changes. The way we all manage our gardens can make a big difference. The easiest way was simply by managing our garden a little less! This was right up our street (or garden).Too much tidiness was not good for wildlife, and nor were concrete, decking and gravel. Moths (and other wildlife) cannot live on bare surfaces like concrete, decking or gravel. So limiting the amount of hard landscaping and increasing the area given to plants will immediately make our garden more moth-friendly.Shots from our Home and Garden

I am not wishing the summer away. Everything will take place in its own sweet time and season. I’m anticipating with pleasure of what is to come. An ideal time to take stock when all the summer madness was slowly fading away and the glories of autumn was not yet upon us.

The true way to live is to enjoy every moment as it passes.

And surely it is in the everyday things around us that the beauty of life lies.

~Laura Ingalls Wilder~

Shots from our Home and Garden

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