“As full of spirit as the month of May, and as gorgeous as the sun in Midsummer”
We checked out Draycote Waters again and were greeted by the screaming Swifts wheeling high above us, scythe-like silhouette against the sky. The arrival of these black sky-racers had changed the demure summer Warwickshire skies into something furious, fast and wild and often they came hurtling low, as if they were skimming the lake . The fierce strength and agility of these supreme aerialists had made their impressions on earlier generations as they were called Devil Birds in various places in England. They even looked like one with their blackish plumage, pale chins and necks and long sickle-shaped wings.
“No birds soars too high if he soars with his own wings”
Like flying anchors, these symbols of high summer had greater mastery of the air than any other bird. They were often in parties, swooping, screaming and chasing each other all day long. They drink, bathe, preen, collect food and nesting materials all without alighting. The nights were spent on the wing and they were the only bird known to mate on the wing, too. We did spotted a pair but they were just too fast to photograph. It was lovely sitting on the embankment watching these excited screaming parties careering madly at high speed. It was strange to think that they were only British for three months each summer and the rest were African.
While the swifts were having fun, we spotted a Crow demolishing a baby rabbit. It was just too gruesome to show any photograph. Thankfully, a Grey wagtail hunting for flies caught our attention. It must have chicks because its beak were full of flies. It was dipping and wagging among the rocks searching for food. When it spotted us, it flew off uttering a brisk cheerful double note ‘chissik chissik’.
“Little trotty wagtail, he went in the rain,
And tittering, tottering sideways he near got straight again
He stooped to get a worm, and look’d up to catch a fly
And then he flew away ere his feathers they were dry.
~John Clare ~
A familiar canary-like liquid twitters erupted from the meadow and a ‘charm’ of Goldfinches were gathering to feed on the seeds of thistles, burdocks and teasels. Unfortunately, a group of children were running all over the place and off they flew with every bounce of the buoyant flight to the light tinkling sounds of delicate Chinese bells. They flew to the tallest tree and the same ‘conversational’ twittering could still be heard.
“Sometimes goldfinches one by one will drop
From low-lying branches; little space they stop;
But sip, and twitter, and their feathers sleek;
Then off at once, as in a wanton freak;
Or perhaps, to show their black and golden wings
Pausing upon their yellow flutterings”
It was the University’s 50th anniversary. For such a young university, it consistently ranked in the top 10 in national rankings of British universities and it was recently declared as The Times and The Sunday Times University of the Year 2015. I felt very privileged to work here and I hoped to continue working here for a long time. Throughout the anniversary, a diverse mix of events were hosted and we were given the opportunity to attend 2 of them.
The first was the distinguished lecture series where we were treated to an evening of intellectual discussion by the world-famous physicist, Professor Brian Cox and the our own Dr Michael Scott, an associate professor in classics and ancient history, on the future of interdisciplinarity. Interdisciplinarity involved the combining of two or more academic disciplines into one activity, like neurosciences and cybernetics. It was about creating something new by crossing boundaries, and thinking across them. The 2 intellects also discussed on how public’s engagement effects interdisciplinarity activities and whether the traditional boundaries of academic studies were becoming obsolete.
We were lucky to have seats quite close to the podium as it was a sell-out event. Although free, I’d to wait 3 months to get the tickets as all was taken during the first hour alone!!! I gave my name and telephone number (which I hated giving out) to a list in case there were people who’d returned the tickets because they couldn’t make it. The terms were quite strict. You’ve to answer within the first 3 rings and if you don’t, your name will be crossed off the list and they will make their way down the list. You can imagine, me rushing everytime the telephone rang.
So what did I think about the discussion? Both speakers were brilliant. But what strike me was that the ideas were brilliant but there were barriers in the career paths of those who chose interdisciplinary work. For example, interdisciplinary grant applications were refereed by peer reviews from established disciplines and likely to lack commitment thus denying untenured researchers the funding and promotion. All in all, it was truly inspiring evening and came out feeling a bit smarter but thoroughly confused:-)
A few days later, we were serenaded by the brilliant Joan Armatrading (JA). I won a pair of tickets for the concert and was over the moon when I found out. Actually, a colleague asked me to help him with Twitter because the competition was run via the social media. After helping him, I decided to take part too. And guess what??? I won and he didn’t. Oops … I was gutted. He wanted to see it so badly that he bought the tickets in the end. I guess lady luck was on my side.
We arrived about 1.5 hours before the show started mainly so that we could find a parking space. We hang around to listen to some acts outside the hall and went in as soon as the doors were open. Slowly, people began trickling in and we were entertained by 2 supporting acts before the main act appeared. JA may have worn a black suit but she provided a colourful reminder as to why she retained her position as one of Britain’s best loved singer songwriter, despite a low public profile over recent years. She didn’t just take to the stage at the sell-out Butterworth Hall of the Warwick arts Centre, she owned it. A pared back set with the veteran performer appearing solo on stage with a selection of electric guitars and a piano, treating the audience to some of her best known songs from the last four decades. This was part of her final world tour and the first as a solo act.
Opening with 1972’s City Girl, JA performed her best songs including All the way from America, These times, Mama mercy , My Baby’s Gone, Drop the Pilot, Me Myself and I, the Weakness in Me and the ever wonderful Love and Affection. The row behind us was singing in tune to all the songs and cat-whistling and stamping their feet after every song. Mind you, they weren’t teenagers and this wasn’t a rock concert. I guess they were die-hard fans because even before she sang a note, they cheered the bejeezus out of the room.
Laughter was juxtaposed with the songs, as JA peppered her set with one liners and wise cracks, resulting in ripples of laughter filling the hall. Behind her, a screen projected images and clips from her music videos, which gave the songs an additional layer of meaning. She also talked through a slideshow of images from her life in music. There were photographs of her with McCartney, Elton and Mandela, with her MBE and even in the pages of Beano. All too soon, the show had to end and JA stood on stage to enjoy the spontaneous rousing standing ovation with a beaming smile of appreciation. She ended the show with Willow, encouraging the adoring audience to softly sing the last two choruses for her. How often do you get to sing someone’s song to them? That stuck in my head forever.
“Just an hour with you, and I understand why we had to meet”
Earlier during the day, I made a pit stop at the city centre to check out an exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum . But first, a smooch around Broadgate which was buzzing with activities provided by the Messy Church. It was a form of church that involved creativity, celebration and hospitality. There were plenty of prayers, songs, games, stories and a sit-down meal for people who don’t already belong to another form of church. It wasn’t my scene and went straight to have lunch at my friend’s cafe, KoCo. We’d a nice chinwag and I was introduced to more Malaysians. After having a meal of Indian-style fried noodles with chicken curry and a spicy condiment, I made my way to the Herbert . As I walked past HolyTrinity Church and the Old Cathedral, I did scanned the spires for the peregrine. But nobody was home.
The Herbert was buzzing with children and adults. They were here for the ‘The Story of Children’s Television’ exhibition. The exhibition traced the fascinating history of children’s television, bringing together seven decades of iconic objects, memorabilia, merchandise, clips and images. From puppetry to CGI and live shows to dramas and fantasy, the exhibition looked at how the magical programmes of their childhood had created memories and nostalgia, in adults and children alike.
Although I didn’t grew up with these characters, it was lovely to see the exhibition receiving rave reviews. As soon as you entered the sliding doors, I was greeted by life-size characters from the Tweenies. Although they were cordoned off, children were running towards them, stroking and giving them hugs :-). The parents were having a hard time controlling their children but who can blame them.
Then, it was to the main exhibition itself through a magic door that slides open as you step on the magic carpet. Inside, it was standing room only. Packed full of interactives for big and small kids, the exhibition showcased original props and characters, from Mummy Woodentop to The Wombles, Morph, Gordon the Gopher, Rastamouse and the singing veggies from Mr Bloom’s nursery. There were long queues to dress-up as the characters especially as Daleks from Dr Who which I think wasn’t a children’s tv show. Proud parents were busy taking photographs and it was so busy that I bet a lot will be photo-bombed.
I didn’t stay long as the crowds were getting bigger and the noise getting louder. It was quite warm too, despite the air-conditioned room. As I turned round the corner to use the facilities, I came face-to-face with these cute characters. Why were they here and not with the rest? Since it was quieter, I was able to photograph to my hearts content without being photo-bombed. It was lovely seeing Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po. But, not for long. A group of children ran past me, ducked under the ropes and gave the Teletubbies a hug. “Eh-oh!” As I walked away, parents and staff were rushing in to stop/collect the children :-)
On the weekend, Babe and I popped over to Bradgate Park to see what was about. After the dog-chasing-deer incident early this month, there were plenty of signs requesting dog-owners to keep their dogs on leash. I was very impressed with the owners. The 4C’s worked which were :
CONTROL your dog
Never let it CHASE deer
CLEAN up its mess
As for the deer, they were very chilled-out. We noticed a few spending their time ‘lying up’, which was where the deer lie down to ruminate between feeding bouts. There were plenty of young bucks staying with the doe herds and they stayed until they were 18 months old, when they leave to join the buck herds. Outside the mating season, bucks roamed around in their own herds separately from the does and their young. The fallow were also the only British deer with palmate antlers in mature bucks.
In the well-known 16th century folk ballad “The Three Ravens’, the term ‘fallow doe’ was used metaphorically, as meaning ‘a young woman’
“Down there comes a fallow doe,
As great with young as she might goe’
As we continued walking on the pavement, the familiar high-pitched scratchy ‘srii’ greeted us. I glanced up and spotted a tree-creeper flying to the base of another tree. We quickly followed it and there were at least 3 flying about. We knew where to point the camera because they crept in and flits down to the base and spiralled up the tree trunks. They must have chicks to feed because their long, distinctively down-curved bills were full of insects and seeds from the crevices in the tree barks.
We walked straight to Lady Jane’s ruins where we met the warden again. He was busy looking at a group of teenagers who were getting too close to the deer herd in the compound. When they spotted him, they quickly dispersed. We asked the warden to show us the tree where the Little Owls were nesting, They’d already fledged but the telltale white droppings were easily seen on the ground and on the tree trunks. He also told us where a Kestrel was nesting but it was very quiet when we checked out the tree. The sighting of this Spotted Flycatcher perching high up on the tree made my day.
The deer in the compound were quite relaxed too, busy feeding among the bracken. Flocks of Goldfinches with their liquid twittering echoed around us. From time to time, the cries of the Peacock could be heard but they were hiding away in their enclosure. Cuckoo calls were bubbling from deep in the woods. We decided to walk back where we spotted a Blue Tit popped out from a hole in the tree-fence. Whoop-whoop, it was nesting at the same place we saw last year. We stood quite a distance away because we didn’t want to attract any attention. After managing to get some shots, discreetly, we made our way back to the car.
We ended our week with our usual pilgrimage to our favourite playground. The Swallows welcomed us with their chattering warble of a song as they swooped and swept around us, too fast to photograph. We continued on towards Baldwin Hide, where we were greeted by a couple of excited photographers and twitchers. We joined the party and on the island was a Fulvous whistling duck. Babe noticed it wasn’t ringed and also not an escapee because it was also not ring tagged. We weren’t too bothered and all you could hear were our cameras rattling away.
D was a duck
With spots on his back
Who lived in the water
And always said ‘quack’
After taking our fill, we let someone else oohing and aahing over the exotic visitor. We made a pit stop at the empty East Marsh Hide. On the island opposite the hide, Shelducks, Mallards and Teals were having a siesta in the hot, humid afternoon. Then a family of Oystercatchers with 2 chicks caught my attention. They’d grown into very fluffy grey-brown chicks and each parent was looking after one and feeding them with worms. Parents fed their chicks for longer periods, helping them to grow quickly in order to survive and looking from the tireless parental care and nurturing, I’m sure they would.
After that cute overload, we continued our journey to check out the next hide. Along the path, my attention was caught by a jerky display flight from the bushes. It’s long tail was flicking as it darted rapidly in and out of cover. It was a Whitethroat, a summer visitor and a passage migrant, and it was playing hide-and-seek with me, skulking in the thick bushes. I stood there patiently and finally it came out in the open, displaying its pure, white throat. When he spotted me, he made a rapid churring call before flying off.
‘And after April, when May follow
And the Whitethroat build, and all the swallow’
We stopped at Carlton Hide and nobody was home. We continued on to Ted Jury Hide and opened all the windows. The overpowering smell from the wood varnish was still very strong. We didn’t stay long at all because the smell was just too overbearing and it started to give me headaches. Thankfully, I was distracted by this Chiffchaff busy singing its name out loud ‘chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff’, performed from the tree canopy. Then this olive-brown leaf warbler actively flitted through the trees, with its distinctively tail-wagging movement.
On our way out, dragonfies and damselflies were basking in the sun. Dragonflies were distinguished by their larger eyes, that usually touch, different shaped fore and hind-wings which were held horizontally at rest and by their powerful flight. Damselflies had similar shaped wings which they held close to their bodies when resting. Dragonflies were agile fliers and had brilliant iridescent or metallic colours produced by structural colouration which made them conspicuous in flight. Damselflies had weaker, fluttery flight. It was quite strange that they were symbols of courage, strength and happiness in Japan, but sinister in European folklore.
Dance , O dragonfles
In your world
of the setting sun
Apart from checking out all my favourite playgrounds, I ‘d also been busy at work keeping up to-date with my professional development. First was taking part in the NISO/NASIG Joint webinar ‘Not Business as Usual: Special cases in RDA serials cataloguing’. Although RDA provided instructions and guidelines on formulating bibliographic data in a linked data environment, it didn’t fulfil the unique requirements needed when cataloguing thespecial materials such as reproductions, microforms, rare materials etc. It was interesting to learn how these cataloguers relied on the development of a community-based best practice to do their work.
The second webinar was on the ‘Digital Preservation Metadata and Improvements to PREMIS in version 3.0’. Unfortunately, I was lost during the presentation because digital preservation wasn’t my forte. There was so much for me to know in advance like a Data dictionary, XML and schema. I am aware that the PREMIS Data Dictionary for Preservation Metadata was the international standard for metadata to support the preservation of digital objects and ensure their long-term usability but I never had any hands-on training. It would also be interesting to see how PREMIS could be used to capture the metadata. .
During my lunch breaks, I often popped over to Tocil Woods to check out the bluebells which had transformed the countryside by creating vivid carpets of intense blue and eloping the woods with their delicate scent. I was blessed to have these magical displays right on my door-step. It was lovely following the winding paths through the swathes of the dainty blue flowers forming an almost unearthly blue haze through the woodlands. I spent quite some time on my knee checking out these delicate English bluebells where the flower stalk bend over and the bells were a deep, blue colour.
The lime green of the beech leaves provided the perfect canopy for the sea of bluebells below. Walking through these ancient woods with the sunlight filtering through these trees made everything looked magical. In fact, in folklore, bluebells were considered to be the flower of the house goblin. It was a symbol of constancy and was probably the origin of the ‘… something blue …’ that a bride wore on her wedding day. When all the leaves of the trees had unfurled, these woods darkened and the bluebells die down as they had insufficient light to grow. Not to worry because they did their growing when there was plenty of light and replenished the nutrients stored in their bulbs. They lie dormant until next year.
I ended this post with one of my favourite visitor to our bird-feeder. This Jay came to our garden in early spring every year as it started a family in a small woodland near our casa. Despite its colourful plumage with its pinkish plumage and intense blue patch on the wings, it behaved in such a way that it was very silent and quite hard to notice. I only knew it was at the feeder when it gave out a loud harsh screeching as it flew away with an undulating flight when I opened the patio door. It was as startled as I was. Now, I knew it was there, I looked through the glass door first and only opened it when the coast was clear.
‘From bush to bush slow sweeps the screaming Jay
With one harsh note of pleasure all day’