Tuesday, 24 March 2015

March Awakening

"Winds of March, we welcome you,
There is work for you to do.
Work and play and blow all day,
Blow the Winter wind away."   

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March was always known as the windy month and had been living up to its name.  It had also been a strange month because several warmer sunnier days were alternating with bitter winds that cut through you, stormy weather and even snow in some places. It was the time of year where you experienced four seasons in one day. Mother Nature was nothing but unpredictable. She was running 2 weeks behind schedule after February’s cold snap slowed spring’s arrival.  But still in the garden, numerous spring bulbs were poking their heads up while the blustery winds blew and the temperatures dipping low. I was surprised to see one or two daffodils  beginning to break from the sheaths in which they had been folded like tightly rolled umbrellas. They greeted anyone who approached the casa with a smile from their bright yellow cheery trumpets just in time for St. David’s Day. 

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St David’s Day falls every year on March 1, the date patron saint of Wales, St. David  who died in 589. But, it wasn’t until the 18 th century though that St David’s Day was declared a national day of celebration in Wales. He was typically depicted holding a dove, and often standing on a hillock with his symbol which was the leek. The Welsh for leek (the original national emblem) was Cenhinen, while the Welsh for daffodil is Cenhinen Pedr. Over the years things got confused until the daffodil was adopted as a second emblem of Wales. It was traditional to wear either a bright green leek or a yellow daffodil on your coat lapel and young girls dressed up in the national costume consisting of a tall black hat, white frilled cap and long black dress which dated back to the 18th century.

“Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.”

~St. David~

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We celebrated the day by attending the national sport of Wales, rugby union, which was considered to be a large part of the Welsh culture. Unfortunately no Welsh teams were playing. It was the London Wasps taking on Gloucester Rugby in the Aviva Premiership. One of my colleagues informed me that there were free tickets from the Student Union to see the match and off course I took the opportunity to grab a pair. If not it would have cost us about £18 each including booking fees. We weren’t rugby fans at all but we wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Anyway, it was just a 30 minute walk from our casa. Instead of the usual 3 pm kick-off, it started at 1 pm so that fans could later watch the Six Nations rugby match between Ireland against England. on the widescreen.

Scanned images

We left the casa at about 12 pm and joined the hundreds walking along Longford Road. A few premises were making a brisk business from using their spaces as parking lots. As we neared the Ricoh, the place was buzzing. We’d to look twice when we saw the notice about the railway station being ready by June this year!!! That would be miracle because the place still looked like a rubble dump. We went straight to our seat but didn’t have it long before a trio told us that we’d the wrong seat. We went to search for a steward and found out that we were right. They didn’t even apologise. 

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Anyway, we’d an incredible view and really enjoyed checking out the spectators. We were seated among the Wasps fans and was drowned by the flutters of the orange and black flags. Before the introduction the team, the stadium was buzzing with the sound of a thousand wasps. And then the stadium erupted when the players emerged and everyone stood up with their flags fluttering away. It was an amazing sight and the sound of beating drums added to the throbbing atmosphere. And this was before the game even started. It was a real party atmosphere. 

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Wasps continued their fine form since arriving at the Ricoh Arena with a 32-21 win over Gloucester. They had beaten London Irish, Sale and Harlequins since they swapped Adams Park for the home of Coventry City, but were forced to come from behind to claim their fourth maximum points win of the campaign. Moriarty's converted try and a penalty from Hook had seen Gloucester leading 10-0 after 25 minutes, but Wasps roared back with tries from Young, Miller and Daly to go into the break 17-13 ahead. The host then added two more tries in the second half, Young again and replacement Thompson going over either side of a score from Gloucester wing Purdy, to seal a ninth Premiership win of the campaign.

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Victory had lifted Wasps above Bath into fourth place, level on points with Saracens and Exeter above them, while Gloucester remained eighth, 12 points adrift of the top six. The  club mascot, appropriately named Sting, was very busy dancing around the pitch, encouraging everyone and building up tension in anticipation of winning. The supporters, who mostly travelled all the way from London, kept waving their flags, overjoyed with the impressive win. Whether the game was played in Heaven or not remained to be seen, but in the meantime, it was certainly enjoyed by many people here on Earth. I’m hooked :-). Then we slowly made our way out of the stadium along with 14,058 people.

“Rugby is great. The players don’t wear helmet or padding; they just beat the living daylights out of each other and then go for a beer.”

~Joe Theismann~

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We were also looking forward to checking out a free entry to Ragley’s House and Garden in Alcester, one of Warwickshire’s most stunning stately homes. They were using the weekend as staff training days for the coming tourist season and unfortunately they failed miserably. 40K people turned up, resulting in a very, very long queue edging slowly towards the gatehouse. After queuing in one of the warmest spring day of the year, we and thousand others were turned away at the entrance!!! Bl---y h—l. They’d to turn people away due to health and safety reasons.

What pissed me off was they should have put up notices miles down the road. We drove through a few roundabouts. Staff and notices should have been stationed here to inform visitors that the place was full so that we don’t have to be stuck in traffic for hours. I know its free but they should have anticipated it. Hundreds, moi included, went on social media to vent our frustration. It was a 2 day event and we thought of turning up the next day. But the earlier experiences turned us off.

Instead we went to Ashlawn Cuttings to see if the frogs had turned up. Unfortunately, not a single croak was heard. No one was in the mood for love :-0. Along the path, we were serenaded by bird songs. Long Tailed tits were skulking among the brambles, searching for places to build nests. Drifts of snowdrops were spotted below the thick undergrowth. I noticed that they were scattered along the slopes, hidden underneath the thick brambles. It was a shame that these weren’t cleared away so that these beautiful harbinger of spring would be visible. But I’m still very glad to have seen them here because the sight of them always continue to delight me.

Ashlawn Cutting - February

At home, I experimented with a new recipe called Broken Glass Jell-o. I’d to modify a few of the ingredients because as a Muslim, I don’t use gelatine in my recipes. Instead, I use agar-agar flakes and because of the different textures, I adjusted a few things here and there. The Jell-o looked like a lot of work but it just took a few steps and you’ll have gorgeous cubes of flavourful Jell-o in no time. It was really a crowd pleaser and the colours and flavour options were endless. I used a silicone bundt pan and the result was stunning. Below was the recipe without the modification.

Shots from Home - February

Broke Glass Jell-o

4 small boxes of jello (3 oz), different colours
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 envelopes unflavoured gelatine

Dissolve each box of jello separately, using one cup of boiling water per flavour. Pour into individual containers and chill overnight.

Once solid, cut the flavours of jello into small blocks and mix together carefully in a glass 9×13 pan.

In a separate bowl, dissolve 2 envelopes unflavoured gelatine in 2 cups hot water. Let cool a bit and stir in the condensed milk. Cool to touch and pour cooled milk mixture over jello and chill overnight.

Cut into squares and serve.

Shots from Home - February

At work, I was busy training a colleague from another department who wanted to be a cataloguer. Woo…hoo. I’m all for anyone interested in cataloguing and classification. I have been a professional cataloguer for the past 3 decades but teaching was a different kettle of fish. I learnt from the bottom and slowly made my way to the top. I picked, learnt, absorbed and dissected a lot of tools of my trade. I’d left the basics so long that I borrowed a few cataloguing and classification text-books to familiarise myself. It was quite a daunting task. But thankfully, NW was a qualified librarian and had picked a few skills along the way. It made my task very much easier.ipad images  02-03-2015 17-27-35

After all that training, I went to purchase my lunch at one of my favourite stall. It was the last Market day of the term and the Piazza was buzzing with everyone enjoying the Spring sunshine. I went out early hoping to be in front of the queue. Unfortunately, other people had the same idea and back to the queue I stood. The smells were amazing and my tummy was growling. I’d my usual Fried kway-teow and this time with seafood. I also bought chicken samosas for dinner. After all that food, I went for a gentle stroll before returning back to the office.

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Drifts of colourful Crocus dotted the university grounds. When it seemed like winter will never lose its icy grip, these dainty, cheerful goblet-shaped crocus peeping through the frozen grounds to put on a show of colourful revival. These beauties offer a variety of colours that stood out against the bleak winter landscape. Many have strong perfumes that lure bees out of their hives and in this case hoverflies. In the language of flowers, crocus meant cheerfulness which was so true.

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And all the woods are alive with the murmur and the sound of Spring

And the rose-bud breaks into pink on the climbing briar,

And the crocus-bed is a quivering moon of fire

Girdled round with the belt of an amethyst ring

~Oscar Wilde~

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I would like to wish the 3 most wonderful women in my life A very Happy birthday, to my Mother, my sister and my only niece, Emil.

May your special day …

Surrounded with Happiness

Filled with laughter

Wrapped with pleasures

Brightened with fun

Blessed with love

Remembered with joy


Enriched with love.

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Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Fifty Shades of February

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“February, when the days of winter seem endless and no amount of wistful recollecting can bring back any air of summer.”

~Shirley Jackson~

The trappings of Valentine was well and truly upon us. You can’t run or hide cos everywhere you turned, there were red hearts and cute teddy bears. It was also no coincidence that the overly anticipated/hyped Fifty Shades of Grey was released on the same day. This film was said to have put an entirely different perspective on romance. The craziest thing I read was B&Q had informed staff to expect an increase in demand for cable ties, rope and duct tape due to this film. What!!!!

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To me, love wasn’t in the soppy cards, or boxes of chocolates or bouquets of flowers or other gifts that might come on the special day. It was in the touch of the hand that I knew that caressed and cared for me every single day of the year, and in the gentle smiles from a warm and genuine face that was the last thing I saw at night and the first thing I woke up to in the morning. It was in the everyday gestures that we should all be giving and given in return … just because.

We celebrated Valentine doing the things we both loved ie being together, walking hand in hand enjoying and photographing whatever we came across in Bradgate Park. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on our side. It was wet, windy, cold, muddy and raining but we still enjoyed ourselves. The park was quite empty of both people and wildlife. I think everyone was hunkering down in the warmth of their homes. What on earth were we doing fighting against the horizontal winds? But the sight of our favourite chatterbox lifted our spirits. He was looking very handsome with his summer breeding colours slowly returning.

Bradgate Park - february

We continued on and I spotted small metal discs with running numbers nailed to the tree. I had read about the tree surveys and knew that all the trees were surveyed in 2014 and they were allocated these numbers. This enabled the tree to be cross-referenced to the report which contained details of its age, species, conditions and any work that it may required. A total of 1954 living trees and a further standing dead (?) trees were recorded. We checked the most impressive looking tree with the number 1654. We found out that it was an English oak and was 495 years old  It was known as the Queen Adelaide’s oak because she’d a picnic on venison and crayfish beneath its branches in 1842. The Queen was the wife of William IV.

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According to the tree survey, the oldest tree was no 2999 which was 818 years old. From my tweets with the Bradgate Park Trust, I was in formed that it was also an English oak and can be found in the wall of Bowling Green Spinney. This wasn’t accessible to the public but they will open it up for me so that I could photograph the tree. Whoop…whoop. Couldn’t wait and thank you so much. In England, the English oak, a native tree, was the most common tree species and had assumed the status of a national emblem. Babe had downloaded the survey into my I-pad so that I could access the data-base anytime when I’m there.

It was a shame that Lady Jane Grey ruins wasn’t opened to the public during the winter months. But when we looked over the walls, we spotted the White peahen with her 2 adorable chicks having a whale of a time strolling undisturbed in the grounds. Being omnivores, they were busy grazing on the grounds, feeding on insects, plants, grains and small creatures. Some people believed that seeing a white peacock brought eternal happiness. Just imagine seeing three … we were so lucky.  

Bradgate Park - february

“Dream tonight of peacock tails

Diamond fields and spouter whales

Ills are many, blessings few

But dreams tonight, will shelter you”

~Thomas Pynchon~

Bradgate Park - february

Often wrongly referred to as an albino peacock, it was technically a white peacock which was a genetic variant of the Indian Blue Peafowl. The genetic mutation produced all white colour of feathers and other body parts. The eyes were pale-blue coloured. I’m hoping that one of the chicks would be a male because the eye shaped spots on the tail feathers were silverfish and not coloured. I couldn’t wait to see a white peacock with its tail spread out …how regal and princely charming will that be.

Bradgate Park - february

We checked out the main field by the visitor centre and spotted a few herds of Fallow deer having a siesta. They were just chilling out and hunkering down against the weather. I don’t blame them. On the hillside, a small herd of Red deer were grazing by the gorses and we thought of getting closer. But some walkers and their dogs were getting too close and scared them off higher into the hills. By this time, the weather was turning for the worse, that we decided to head back to the car and go home. A green woodpecker was spotted flying to a nearby tree but flew off when we got closer.

Bradgate Park - february

On Sunday, we went for a drive through the Warwickshire countryside to attend a Snowdrop open day at St. Mary’s Temple Balsall in Knowle. It was a thriving Christian community offering hospitality to all who visited but we were more interested in the hundreds of snowdrops growing all over the place especially in the churchyard and wildlife area. Various conservation measures had been taken over the years to improve the habitat and one of my colleagues, PL, was one of the volunteers. But unfortunately, we just couldn’t find the place. We drove up and down the very narrow country lanes several times but there was no signage or anyone to ask. This was our 2nd attempt to visit this place and we failed both times :-(. Never mind, there was always next year.

Slimbridge WWT - february

          LONE Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,
Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,
Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
The rising sun, and on the plains descend;
Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend
Whose zeal outruns his promise!
~William Wordsworth, To a Snowdrop~

Slimbridge WWT - february

Earlier during the week, I had caught the dreaded lurgy that had been running rampant in the library. One by one my colleagues fell ill and I knew my turn would be next. I woke up one morning and the world turned upside down. I’d a stinking cold and was sneezing non-stop. I called work and spent the day in Babe’s reclining chair with a hot water bottle, vapour rubs, and paracetamol hiding under the duvet. From time to time, Babe came down to make sure that I’d taken my tablets and plenty to drink. And then, I started coughing. Oh, no I don’t want the bronchitis to flare up again. I couldn’t sleep in bed and spent the night downstairs on the reclining chair. I was off sick for 2 days.

Brandon Marsh - September This is how I felt when I was ill

I went to work because I felt much better but it was a very big mistake. My poor body hadn’t fully recovered and I was off again for another 2 days. And I wasn’t alone. My colleagues too were phoning in sick but thankfully not on the same day. It was a very lethal lurgy that we caught. Even though, my head was all over the place, I still managed to complete the Development and Performance Review form for the annual appraisal. I just cut and paste what I’d written last year on to the new forms and added bits here and there. I emailed them to my manager on a wing and a prayer. I was just too exhausted to think.  

Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday fell on the day I was too full of snort to stand in front of the stove flipping pancakes. Instead, we bought a few packs of ready-made ones when we nipped to the supermarket to get more paracetamol, cough syrup and tissues. I just warmed them up in the microwave and had it with plenty of honey which was supposed to be beneficial in minimizing seasonal allergies and offered antiseptic, antioxidant and cleansing properties.

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Even, The Koran praised honey’s healing abilities

“And thy Lord taught the Bee to build its cells in hills, on trees, and in (men’s) habitations; then to eat of all the produce (of the earth), and find with skill the spacious path of its Lord : there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colours, wherein is healing for men : verily in this is a sign for those who give thought.”  

~Surah I-nahh 16:68~

Chinese New Year too came when I was in bed. But was it the Year of the Ram, Sheep or Goat? Actually, when used without attributes, the Chinese character Yang referred to all of the forgoing ruminants, But, in terms of traditional culture, the zodiac symbol was a goat, as it was commonly seen among the Han tribe. Their images too appeared on Chinese New year stamps and paper-cuts. My colleagues and I planned to celebrate the new year in one of the local Chinese restaurants but we’d to cancel it as most of us was out of action.

Draycote Waters - February

“Gung Hay Fat Choy

In China, every girl and boy

Celebrates the new year

in a very special way

With fireworks and dragons,

colored red and gold

They welcome in the new year

and chase away the old!

~Helen H. Moore~

Although my nose was stuffed, I could still smell the heady, sweet lingering scent from the blooming hyacinths which I’d planted in November last year. They were natural air-fresheners and made my days a bit better. A few were in individual glasses and 4 were in a pot and brought colour to the living room. According to Greek mythology Hyakinthos (or Hyacinthus) was a Spartan prince loved by the gods Apollon and Zephyros. They were playing discus when it struck Hyakinthos on the head and killed him. The grieving Apollon transformed the dying prince into a larkspur flower (hyakinthos in Greek).

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“Only the gods who taste of death. Apollo has passed away, but Hyacinth, whom men say he slew, lives on ..”

~Oscar Wilde~

I managed to get to work on the last day of the week. I wasn’t 100% fit but sometimes you’d to show willingness. I’d a surprise when I arrived to see the library disappearing under swathes of cardboards, posters and banners.  You can’t get into the Library entrance without the constant flap of leaflets in your face. It was that time of year again when candidates for the Student Union were campaigning to persuade the other students to vote for them. Warwick SU was a membership organisation whose officer Team was elected by current students. Each year, a team of 7 Sabbatical officers was elected by the student body to represent the students and to help oversee different areas of the Union’s activities.

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Later in the afternoon, I found out that the therapy dogs were in the building. After the popularity of the PAT dogs last year, they were invited back to let the students de-stress and relax. 120 tickets were snapped up and both the dogs and students had a wonderful time. I’d a feeling that the dogs enjoyed it more, being rubbed and fussed. These dogs provided therapeutic visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes  and special needs schools. They brought everyday life closer and with it all the happy associations of home comforts. The constant companionship of an undemanding animal, that gave unconditional love, were often one of the most missed aspects of their lives   Pets as Therapy brought comfort and companionship by giving them the opportunity to stroke, hold and talk to one of these friendly and calm dogs.

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During the weekend, Babe and I did our bit for National Nest-box week. We have a nest box at the bottom of the garden attached to an elderflower tree. For 2 consecutive years, a pair of Blue tits had nested in them but unfortunately, both times failed. The first year, we weren’t aware at all that the box was being used. We brought it down to be cleaned when we saw 2 tiny un-hatched eggs, The birds must have abandoned the nest. Last year, we only noticed the box being occupied when we spotted a pair of Blue tits flying in and out. Unfortunately, the cries of the chicks attracted the attention of a cat and we saw it eyeing the box and even putting its paw into the hole!!!! A few days later, we didn’t hear anything and thought the chicks had fledged. When we brought the box down and opened it, 3 perfectly formed chicks were dead. They looked like they were about to fledge soon.

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It broke our hearts to witness this. So this year, we fortified the trunk and the nest-box against any marauding intruders. We are keeping our fingers-crossed that the birds will try again and successfully breed. As trees were cut down, gardens tidied and old buildings demolished, more and more birds were losing their traditional homes. Putting up a nest-box was a good substitute and taking part gave us the chance to contribute to bird conservation whilst the pleasure of observing any breeding birds that were attracted to the nest box.

While I was ill and resting at home, Babe spent some time at Brandon Marsh. The usual culprits were there and he photographed the Coots getting jiggy at it. It was that time of the year when birds were thinking of breeding. All black, Coots had the distinctive white beak and ‘shield’ above the beak which earned them the title ‘bald’. Their feet had distinctive lobed flaps of skin on the toes, which pattered noisily over the water before taking off. Coots were territorial and will swim menacingly towards any intruders on their patch. As the breeding season approaches, they switched behaviour from their winter flocking to become aggressively territorial. Disputes with neighbours turned into vicious fights, using their sharp claws to strike at each other.

Brandon Marsh - february

When it was time for them to mate, the process began with a great show. Both sexes started by displaying themselves in front of the other. They called to one another, while splashing about. The mating process began on the water and ended on land. The female assumed a submissive posture (crouched with head down) as an invitation to the male. She maintained this position while mating. Looking forward to see loads of the ugliest looking adorable  ‘cootlings’ in the near future.

Much as I have enjoyed this winter, I am looking forward to Spring. The days were lengthening, brightening and warming now and the daffodils were budding, so even if Spring wasn’t here yet, it seemed at least a possibility.

February is merely as long as is needed to pass the time until March”

~Dr. J. R. Stockton~

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