I’d been humming this song from the Disney film ‘Frozen’ since the start of December. And I think I wasn’t alone. Crisp winter sunshine marked the beginning of winter with temperatures plummeted to –2C in the first week as mild November was blown away by an Arctic blast from Iceland. Rolling mist and fog rose as the country woke to bright, cold conditions. Then a massive depression or weather bomb called explosive cyclogenesis brought icy blast with waves and blizzards to the west coat. Thankfully, the Midlands wasn’t affected by this but it was still bitterly cold. We came across several pockets of ice when we were out and about.
The snow glows white on the mountain tonight,
not a footprint to be seen.
A kingdom of isolation and it looks like I'm the queen.
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside.
Couldn't keep it in, Heaven knows I tried.
Don't let them in, don't let them see.
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know.
Well, now they know!
Let it go, let it go!
Can't hold it back any more.
Let it go, let it go!
Turn away and slam the door.
I don't care what they're going to say.
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway.
It's funny how some distance,
makes everything seem small.
And the fears that once controlled me, can't get to me at all
It's time to see what I can do,
to test the limits and break through.
No right, no wrong, no rules for me.
Let it go, let it go.
I am one with the wind and sky.
Let it go, let it go.
You'll never see me cry.
Here I'll stand, and here I'll stay.
Let the storm rage on.
My power flurries through the air into the ground.
My soul is spiralling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I'm never going back; the past is in the past!
Let it go, let it go.
And I'll rise like the break of dawn.
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand, in the light of day.
Let the storm rage on!
The cold never bothered me anyway...
~Idina Menzel - (Disney's Frozen) Let It Go~
December started with the opening of the advent calendar and a Christmas countdown. In John Betjeman’s poem Advent 1955, there was a lovely passage about how it felt this time of year
“It’s dark at breakfast, dark at tea,
And in between we only see
Clouds hurrying across the sky
And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry”
The run up to Christmas was now underway. I was prettily organized and feeling very smug. All the presents already bought and wrapped up, cards written and ready for posting, decorations dragged out and the halls decked up bit by bit. The only thing left was food for the day. We were thinking of having turkey crown with all the trimmings. Other than that, all was calm and waiting in anticipation. But life goes on as usual.
I’d mid term appraisal. Aaah…where was my list of objectives? My manager and I discussed how many had I ticked off the list and was there any that I need to change as a result of the Library Review. I was very surprised that I had only one left which was Content DM and I had also added another extra task which was working on the repository list. We discussed on what we expected the department to be working to and improving on. The only letdown was that we depended too much on other departments to do our work.
I was at work when Babe called me to take the bus home. He’d spotted someone trying to break into our neighbour house through the back door. He heard a few loud bangs and looked out the window and saw this guy. At first Babe thought that it was a workman but on second thoughts, went down to check if MA’s car was there. It wasn’t and the back gate was opened. He called the police and by that time, the guy had left. It was very strange because there were 4 houses in the private cul-de-sac and he targeted the house that didn’t have a car parked on the driveway. This was done in broad daylight. What a scumbag. We now have the house fortified and have CCTV operating 24 hours.
My diary was filling up fast. But first, I’d to find a present worth £5 for the office Secret Santa. I was in luck because M&S was having a special half-price sale and I bought a lovely decorative tin full of Xmas cookies. It was funny that I pulled up my own name as the secret recipient. What were the chances of that? At first, I wanted to keep it quiet because I really liked my own gift. But then decided to own up and we started all over again. Unfortunately, I won’t be around when Santa was distributing the gift. I saw the photographs on that day and it was hilarious. Everyone had a great time. This was what I got for my Secret Santa. It was a sprinkle shaker and a tub of M&S sprinkles. My secret bearer knew me so well. Thank you.
I also organised a ‘Not a Xmas’ lunch for the department. I picked 4 restaurants for my colleagues to choose and as expected Wing Wah won hands down. On the day, all of us piled into WFP people carrier and off we went for our outing. We were immediately seated and after ordering a pot of Chinese tea for me, we went to check out the starters. As usual, I made a bee-line for the seafood. Unfortunately not much to choose from. Then straight for the main course and I was able to pile high the plate with mussels and prawns on top of Chinese vegetables and fried noodles. I’d a second helping of the same thing and was furious when someone scooped all the steamed fish :-( :-( :-(. For desserts, I’d the creme brulee with refreshing Chinese melon. Everyone had a good time tucking into their food with conversations and laughters flowing nicely. Then it was a slow drive back to work where everyone sat silently by their table, digesting their food and trying to work. Hic…
Then it was the Staff Open Day where every department had to make a board of what they were doing and what the achievements were. We’d a departmental meeting to discuss what we wanted to do and came out with Metadata Man flying through the clouds solving and answering queries. CC who was very artistic did the fantastic artwork while WFP went wild with the quirky cats plus questions and answers. Everyone contributed an idea and WFP transformed it into something that made everyone smile. I think ours was the most quirkiest of the whole lot. I also had to contribute some ideas for the International Students Working Group which was also having a stand. Thankfully, it was quite a low key one.
The Staff Xmas dinner was the highlight of the last working week for most people, moi included. As usual, I wore a traditional Malay costume called the Baju Kebaya which was made from Italian silk. It was very Christmassy with red and green patterns. I was very thankful for thermal underwears :-). At 12.30 pm we trotted to Scarman House for the lunch which was for the first time paid by the Library. Gracias. After finding our table, our meal started with either a prawn cocktail or soup of the day. Off course, I had the prawn starter. And then we joined the very long queue for the main meal.
I chose the red snapper which was such a small portion that the chef asked me to also take the quiche. I added wild rice, boiled baby potatoes, carrots with lashings of onion gravy. Yum…yum. It was fun eating with our Xmas hats on and sharing jokes from the crackers. I also had another serving from the cold buffet bar and chose the salmon, prawns and potato salad. Desserts was quite tricky because I wanted something which doesn’t contain gelatine or alcohol. Finally I settled on creme brulee with a generous helping of fruit salad. Then, we all adjourned for coffee and mince pies but I’d the chamomile tea. We sat on the comfy chairs and chatted with ex-members of staff who’d came for the dinner. It was lovely seeing them again.
Then we slowly dragged our feet back to work. We’d another 2 hours to go and, again, everyone sat silently at their table, digesting the food and trying very hard to work. Since it was my last day at work for the year, I cleared everything on my table and wiped it clean. I emptied my bin and watered the plants. I’m away for 16 days and will start work on the 5th of January 2015. Whoop…whoop. It was strange wishing everyone Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.
This week Babe and I went out to check out RSPB Middleton Lakes. We were very warmly dressed for the very cold weather and muddy footpaths. It was freezing cold but there were still plenty of cars in the car-park. As we walked across the very slippery boardwalk, a Green Spotted Wood pecker flew past us and landed on the bird-feeder. We stopped to check out what else was feeding here and it was buzzing with Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, House sparrows, Reed buntings, Blue and Great Tits. And the highlight was when an adorable Nuthatch came in and joined the party.
Below all these, an unobtrusive Dunnock and a very handsome Jay was picking the nuts and seeds that had fallen onto the ground. For such a large, brightly coloured bird, the Jay was well camouflaged among the grass. Check out the body buff, with the distinctive black moustache. When it spotted the camera, it flew off with its hard screeching call. It was very conspicuous in flight, with black tail, white rump, and white and blue wing-patches.
“From bush to bush slow sweeps the screaming jay
With one harsh note of pleasure all day”
We continued wading through the very muddy and slippery footpaths towards the Jubilee Wetlands. Fisher Mill Pond was frozen and most of the Cormorants, Mallards, Tufted ducks, Teals, Moorhens and Coots were near the New Reedbeds where the ice had melted. We stopped at the first viewpoint to photograph the English Longhorn Cattle feeding along the Jubilee Wetlands. The unmistakable tuft of red hair on their polls and the curved horns are what make these cattle so unique. All animals were horned, with the horns often curving down and in towards their faces. They have a robust and coarse-looking head mostly because they had been raised and bred in such a harsh environment like that found on the English moors and glens which was why they were at home here.
We continued on the seasonal trail towards the second viewpoint. Midpoint, a familiar bird with a low and jerky flight flew towards us and landed on the fence. It was a male Stonechat. We held our breath and crept slowly. The white wing-flash and the constant twitching of wings were very distinctive. He greeted our approach by moving from perch to perch on rapidly whirring broad wings, He was now in his winter duller colours. We were hoping to see more but we only saw that only one.
We walked along the East Scrape and saw a few Reed buntings feeding on the hawthorn berries, The River Tame that flowed along the reserve was swollen and flowing fast. We headed straight for the hide and had a hard time with the combination numbers for the lock. The door just wouldn’t open. Thankfully, there was someone in there and opened it for us. Thank you. We sat down and started checking out the Little Egrets. There were a few but they were quite far away. We held our breath when one flew very close to the hide. In flight, it has a relatively rapid wing-beat and rounded wings.
This very handsome bird stood out well in its pure white plumage. The legs were dark with bright yellow feet. Sometime, it ran rapidly in the shallow water, stabbing left and right for small fishes, frogs and aquatic insects. Little egrets were solitary and silent birds. They were carnivorous and their diet normally consisted of fish, amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans and insects. We watched him stalking a range of prey in the shallow water by shuffling its feet to disturb small fish and other animals, sometimes running with wings raised or in true heron fashion by standing very still and waiting to ambush prey.
Above us, hundreds of Lapwings was in the air. Something had flushed them out. It was a Sparrow-hawk. I loved their sudden appearance and silent flight. It flew across the lagoon scattering the birds again before landing on one of the islands at the end of the wetland. To our outmost delight, it went into the water and had a bath. It was clearly enjoying the cold water and was splashing about. Hunting for food must have been a messy thing. We left when it began to get very cold in the hide and we don’t want to be sliding in the mud in the dark.
We also made a trip to our favourite playground to check out what the natives were up to. Along the frosty and frozen footpaths the familiar high-pitched ‘sree-sree-sree-sree’ caught our attention. I followed the cries under the bushes and spotted the bright yellow crown on the tiny and dumpy Goldcrest, Europe’s smallest bird. It was flitting along the branches picking insects from the barks. Associated with coniferous forests, these birds were almost entirely insectivorous and make the most of their light weight by foraging in places where larger birds can’t go, like at the very end of small branches. It was once thought so unlikely that a Goldcrest could fly unaided across the North Sea that they were called 'woodcock pilots' because of a belief that they hitched a ride in the plumage of the woodcocks.
We headed straight to Baldwin Hide where one of Babe’s mates told us that there was a Kingfisher under the branches. It had been there for nearly an hour, changing positions from time to time. The old name for the Kingfisher was the Halcyon. It was thought that at this time, the gods granted respite from winter storms to enable her to hatch her young in peace. I think it was a bit late for the eggs to be hatched. Thus, the 14-28th of December were known as the Halcyon days of December.
We continued towards East Marsh Hide where the lake was frozen and a flock of Gulls mostly Black Headed was resting on the ice. Babe spotted a Common Gull among them. We’d a good laugh watching a young Herring Gull flying in and trying to land on the ice. It was sliding all over the place. And because of its weight, the thin ice broke and it fell into the water. It kept doing this several times and finally gave up and flew off to land on the nearby post. A flock of Mallards too flew in and were sliding all over the place. We left the hide before we got frozen to the seat.
As we walked out, we came across a roving flock of Long Tail Tits wandering through the woods like flying teaspoons or ‘bumbarrels’ with their extraordinary tails as handles. When they fly, they communicated with each other with excited ‘tserr, si-si-si’ contact calls. Their excitement at finding a rich supply of food, or their nervousness when they spot a threat was revealed by the high-pitched twittering. We stood still watching these balls of tumbling, see-sawing birds bouncing from one branch to another above our heads with their spherical bodies and oversized tails. In flight, these proportions give these birds the resemblance of lollipops undulating through the air.
‘And coy bumbarrels twenty in a drove
Flit down the hedgerows in the frozen plain
And hang on little twigs and start again’
I was also looking forward to the annual Geminid meteor shower. I’ve been outside when the shower was supposed to be at its peak where you were able to see more than 50 shooting stars per hour. I was out for nearly an hour and I only saw ONE. It was just too cold to stay outside longer than that. But, I might have stayed on if I was able to see more than one. Starting on 7 December and ending on the 16 December, the meteor shower was for most, the highlight of the meteor shower calendar in 2014. The Geminids was different to other meteor showers as they originated from an asteroid, as opposed to a comet, meaning they were very rocky and gritty, making them slightly easier to see than other showers. They were commonly bright and the shooting stars have long persisting trains.
‘Ooh, with a little luck, December will be magic again’