Finally, we’d an Indian summer. According to the Met Office’s Meteorological Glossary, an Indian Summer was defined as a ‘warm, calm spell of weather occurring in autumn, especially in late September, October or November.’ It was a bit early this year as we enjoyed the final flourish of summer sunshine before the drearier weather sets in. Temperatures soared above the September average of 16.5 C to 19C as a high-pressure ridge forced warmer air up from the Atlantic. The first recorded use of the phrase appeared in a letter written by a Frenchman called John de Crevecoeur dated 17 January 1778. In his description of the Mohawk country he wrote "Sometimes the rain is followed by an interval of calm and warm which is called the Indian summer.” And my sunflowers were loving the final spell of summer.
“Farewell, thou later spring; farewell, All-hallown Summer”
~Shakespeare, Henry V. i. 2~
Earlier this month, Coventry City fans savoured an emotional homecoming to the Ricoh Arena. For the first time in 503 days, Sky Blues supporters flocked back to their home ground and partied hard. “Ownership is temporary,’’ Jimmy Hill once said, “loyalty is permanent.’’ The words of the Coventry City legend had been adopted by the loyal supporters. Coventry fans had been to hell and back, administration and back, Northampton and back, but were finally rewarded for their loyalty on Friday night. They still had the questionable hedge fund owners, Sisu, but at least they were back in the right postcode.
Days before the match against Gillingham, snaking queues had formed outside the football club’s superstore in the Gallagher Retail Park. We happened to be there when we were looking at alarms in Maplin which was just next door. My colleague had joined the queue previously but it was already sold-out before he even reached it. The saddest thing was that as soon as the news came out that the club was returning home, the shop had been ram-raided and merchandise stolen. What an opportunistic lot !!! In the match, Nouble scored early on against Gillingham in the 1-0 League One win, and the Ricoh was rocking and all that frustration of so many months away was heard in the 27,000 voices. We lived about 3 km away and we could hear the chants, songs and roars. And it went on late into the night.
After that righteous night, we were up and early, well not that early, to check out our favourite playground. We went straight to Steely Hide and we weren’t alone. The hide was full and one of my ex-colleague was there taking a quarter of the space :-0. I introduced him to Babe and they’d a long chinwag about cameras and lenses. Since nothing turned up, the others left and the 3 of us made ourselves at home. As usual, when everything was quiet, the natives came out to play. The Kingfisher flew in and spent quite sometime alternating between the pole and the bushes. All you could hear were 3 powerful DSLR cameras rattling away.
After it flew off, it was quiet again but not for long. At the end of the pond, I spotted a head bobbing up and down and realised that it was an otter hunting. Whoop… whoop. Our first ever sighting and we’d been coming here for nearly 7 years. Again the cameras rattled away. A pity that it was too far away and only the head and tail was seen as it swam. Otters were the only amphibious member of the weasel family. They were solitary creatures, only meeting to mate.
“It’ll be all right, my fine fellow,” said the Otter. “I’m coming along with you, and I know every path blindfold; and if there’s a head that needs to be punched, you can confidently rely upon me to punch it.”
~Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
After all that excitement, it was time to head home. By the walls near the car-park, the swallows were gathering on the electric wires. The sight reminded me that Summer was nearly over and I bet they were thinking about the great journey to Africa that they were about to make. But in the meantime, they flutter about restlessly as we stood there. They always turned out smart, glossily be-suited in top hat and tails with their blue backs shining in the hazy sunlight like hardened silk. The early broods of youngsters were usually the first to go. But a few stragglers like this chap was still around, begging to be fed.
“The swallow of summer, cartwheeling through crimson,
Touches the honey-slow river and turning
Returns to the hand stretched under the eaves
A boomerang of rejoicing shadow”
~Ted Hughes, ‘Work and Play’~
Below the twittering Swallows, a Grey wagtail was feeding by the pool’s edge, moving with a dainty walk, dipping head and neck forward. It paused for a few minutes before sprinting off again at a surprising speed. At times, it darted into the air after an insect, and then continued walking briskly along the ground. More colourful than its drab name suggested, the pale blue-grey back contrasted sharply against the lemon yellow underparts. When it flew off, a sharp chi-cheep call trailed behind.
On Sunday, we drove over to Bradgate Park to check what the natives were up to. And we were surprised to see the park buzzing. It was so full that the authorities opened both the overflow car-parks and had the rangers directing traffic. After paying the £3 parking fee, we joined the hundreds who were there. There was a sponsored walk fund-raising for LOROS or Leicestershire and Rutland Organisation for the Relief of Suffering, a local charity for hospice care. Although there was a large crowd, the natives weren’t so bothered by the intrusion.
We walked along the River Lin which flowed through the middle of the park. Mallards, Gulls and Ravens were enjoying the bread chunks thrown by the visitors. Further down, we heard a familiar whistling ‘wheeooo’. It was our favourite Wigeon. He was looking a bit tattered because he was moulting. After this process, when the plumage was said to be in ‘eclipse’, this drake resembled the female, which were grey or buff-coloured with a white underside.
Common darters, a summer and autumn species, were out and about and they were one of the last dragonflies on the wing. As the name suggested, they dart forward suddenly from a hovering position to catch their prey. They then fly to their favourite perch to enjoy their meal. They were out in abundance preferring to breed in the still water at the edges of the stream, surrounded by the bulrush plants. We spotted a few pairs laying their eggs by broadcasting from the air. The male held the female in tandem and swings her down and forward over water at a height of around 40 cm.
We heard ringing calls ‘wee-wee-wee-wee-wee-wee’ above us and scanned the branches of the large, mature trees. A flock of Nuthatch were descending the tree-trunk headfirst, the only British species to do so. These small but beautiful birds were easily identified by its blue-grey upperparts as they clambered up and down the branches and tree-trunks. They were very vocal with their loud, rapid series of piping notes. I was delighted to see this chap doing a trapeze right above my head.
We continued towards the ruins where families were having picnics under the crystal blue skies and wall-to-wall sunshine. The atmosphere on a glorious late summer‘s afternoon was languid and relaxed. We walked past the bracken where a herd of fallow deer were having a siesta. We noticed one was attacking the bracken with its antlers resulting in the vegetation dangling on them. He was strengthening his swollen and thickened neck for potential clashes with other male ‘suitors’. The rutting season won’t be long now.
In Lady Jane Grey ruins, we chatted with the volunteer who told us to look out for the albino peahen with her chicks. Whoop…whoop. We scanned the edges of the park and on the stone wall at the furthest end, we spotted her under a tree. We crept closer and she disappeared into the bracken. Despite her colour, she blended well with her surroundings. We stood still and waited and waited and waited. And then we spotted her, checking us out. We left after a few photographs because we don’t want to stress her.
On our way back to the car, a small flock of brown, streaky birds caught my attention. I followed the strong ‘spek’ calls as they fed on the conifers. Tree pipits were the commonest songbirds in upland areas but this was the first time I saw them here. Invisible among the vegetation, they rose a short distance up from the tree, and then parachuted down on stiff wings, the song became more drawn out towards the end. The adults moulted first before leaving for tropical Africa. I was glad to have seen them because they were on the red list of conservation concern. We left the park quite early because I need to be fully rested for my trip to Canterbury.
I was in Canterbury for a 3-day CIG conference at the University of Kent with 4 of my colleagues. The 3 of us took the 9.50am train from Coventry and arrived at Euston in one piece. We dragged our luggage for about 30 minutes towards St. Pancreas where we were meeting another colleague and 4 other participants. After the introductions and hugs, we cleared the shelves at M&S for our lunch. Then we walked towards the platform when we realised that we were at the wrong one. It was a mad dash up the elevators not an easy feat when we’d to drag our luggage and just saw the tail of the Southeastern High Speed train leaving the station. NOOO… The next train was in an hour’s time that we decided to have a picnic near this impressive building.
I checked my mobile and found several texts from another colleague who was on the train. Oops…if only I’d checked my mobile earlier. Never mind. The 7 of us had one carriage to ourselves and boy did we make a lot of noise. We weren’t the stereotyped librarians with fingers to our lips saying hush. We were planning to start the party early especially when CES brought out her now in-famous boozy gin-cake. The train speeded through London towards the south-eastern corner of England. France was just 34 km across the Straits of Border. It was very tempting to hop on the wrong train. Although Kent was traditionally known as the “Garden of England’ because of its abundance of orchards and hop gardens, we didn’t see any.
We arrived sober an hour later and met a few other conference attendees that made things easier to share taxis. It was a 20 minutes drive uphill to the main Canterbury campus. We registered and was quickly taken to our plush accommodations. After a quick freshing-up, we made our way to the main lecture theatre where the conference was held. With the rise of RDA, the development of BIBFRAME and the ever-increasing pressure on library budgets, traditional metadata was undergoing something of a transformation. New models were emerging as technologies change and the way we think about metadata was evolving as well. For 3 days, we listened, discussed, brain-stormed and debated about the impact of the changes on metadata and how can these best be maximized in terms of ‘adding value’. Good metadata provided much more than just tidy catalogue records. It underpinned the entirety of the users experience that has the potential to help or hinder.
But it wasn’t all work and no play. Dinner was held at Dolche Vita and the food was surprisingly good especially when you have Ben and Jerry ice-creams for dessert. I’d the roasted lemon sole with all the trimmings. Since not many were having fish, we’d seconds :-). Then it was the obligatory pup quiz which everyone participated with great gusto. The next day, since AM and I weren’t CIG members, we decided to pop into town during the AGM. I think you need to find time to check out the place because it might be the only time you’re here. When we got off the bus, we realised that all the cobbled roads led to the impressive Canterbury Cathedral.The town’s skyline was dominated by this stunning cathedral, the oldest in England.
We followed the signs for the historical Butter Market which was situated directly opposite the Cathedral entrance. This very busy pedestrianised courtyard had served as the focal point for the town for more than 800 years. It was previously known as ‘Bullstake’ named after the practise of the baiting of bulls with dogs in belief that it tenderised their meat. Situated on top of Roman ruins and a series of secret tunnels, used to hide the monks, the square now served as War Memorial and public events. This Canterbury’s World War 1 memorial dominated the square.
We walked through the huge intricately carved Christ Church gate which was built between 1504-1521. It was probably built in honour of Prince Arthur, Henry VIII’s elder brother who was married to Catherine of Aragon in 1501. After his death, allowing Henry VIII to become King and married the widow in 1509. (Imagine the consternation of the sculptors responsible for the heraldry trying to keep up-to-date with changing family dynamics :-)). It was the main entrance for visitors and of the first glimpse of the 900-year-old cathedral that got them reaching for their cameras. Unlike moi, who was always camera ready :-). The oak gates were carved with the arms of the Kent landmark and were replaced in 1616 after the original ones were damaged. You have to pay to enter but it was free between 5-9 pm in the grounds only. The Cathedral sat in the centre of a large green lined with beautiful old houses and buildings. There were throngs of school children and visitors but there was still a sense of quietness, peacefulness and tranquil emanating from the spectacular building. It reached out and enveloped you as you walked around it in awe.
We didn’t stay long because we were visiting the Cathedral on the conference’s final day. We walked out and through the many winding lanes and quaint streets with their unique identities and historical structures. The city still retained part of it’s medieval walls which unfortunately, I wasn’t able to walk on due to time constraints. There was a more continental feel to the surroundings with plenty of street cafes, buskers and street performers. We just had to nip into this old-style British sweetshop housed in one of the many stone buildings. What a cornucopia of confectionary. Shelves were groaning with jars upon jars of delight, the joys of old favourites and the thrills of finding something new and scrumptious. We’d a wonderful time checking out the abundance of varieties on offer. Finally, I chose a tub for Babe as a treat from Canterbury.
We’d to get back to our accommodations to get ready for the conference dinner. I also managed to purchase a new pair of black 5 cm high heels from Deichmann as a treat :-). After putting on my glad rags, a laced LBD with a black pashmina and in my new heels, we walked uphill for about 10 minutes. Aah… my poor feet. The drinks had started early and I stuck to a tall glass of fresh orange juice. Then we adjoined to the table for dinner. Although the meal was a let-down, our table was where the cool kids hang out. We made our own party games and everyone joined in. It was a blast. By 10 pm, we bid everyone good night.
On the final day, we checked out of the room and dragged our luggage to the lecture theatre . The morning was spent on the final presentations and then it was time to bid everyone goodbye with promises to keep in touch. Two of my colleagues and I took the bus into town where we were going to have lunch before meeting the others for a tour of the Cathedral Library. We’d lunch in one of Canterbury’s oldest public houses, The City Arms, a traditional, grade II listed 15th century pub. The earliest record of the pub was as the ‘Morocco’ in the Licensing list of 1692. How exotic was that. After polishing off the not-so exotic but delicious burger, we dragged our luggage on the cobbled street to the Christ Church Gate to meet the others.
The librarian walked us through the Great Cloister to the library. The library had undergone a £1m renovation and refurbishment works. These included the installation of climate-controlling equipment, a new copper roof, hi-tech insulation, new heating system and secondary glazing. It had a collection of about 30,000 books and pamphlets printed before the 20th century and about 20,000 later books and serials. Many of the earlier books were acquired as part of donated collections. It was rich in church history, older theology, British history (including local history), travel, science and medicine, and the anti-slavery movement. We spent about an hour here when we found out the tour doesn’t include the Cathedral!!! There were lots of eyeing at each other and the organiser had to apologise profusely for the error. We’d to pay another £10.50 on top of the £9 that we’d paid. Thanks but no thanks. Anyway, most of us were already too tired and just want to go home.
On the way out, I rattled a few shots of the gothic cloisters that we walked past. The cloister was a very beautiful square building, curiously arched with stones. They were designed and built around 1400 by a Kentish man, Stephen Lote, an associate of Yevele who was actually responsible for the destruction of the earlier Norman cloisters when he rebuilt the Nave of the Cathedral. On the ceilings are bosses that bore the arms of individuals who had donated money to the construction and decoration of the Cathedral.
Founded in 597, by St Augustine, who was sent by Pope Gregory the Great, as a missionary and became the first Archbishop, establishing his seat (or 'Cathedra') in Canterbury. In 1170 Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in the Cathedral and ever since, the Cathedral has attracted thousands of pilgrims, as told most famously in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The Cathedral housed a Romanesque Crypt, dating back to the 11th century, a 12th century early Gothic Quire and a 14th Century Perpendicular Nave. Beautiful medieval stained glass windows illustrated the miracles and stories associated with St Thomas. Then it was time to bid goodbye to Canterbury.
But first I pray yow, of youre curteisye,
That ye n' arette it nat my vileynye,
Thogh that I pleynly speke in this mateere,
~Geoffrey Chaucer, ‘The Canterbury Tales’~