Monday, 25 April 2016

Ostara Omens

The Spring or vernal equinox had officially arrived. It was the coming of Ostara, an ancient Anglo Saxon belief. The origin of the word Ostara was actually from Eostre, a Germanic goddess of Spring.  It was traditionally regarded as the end of winter and the day that spring arrived.  The great turning of the year as spring moved with joy towards the summer.

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“Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!

~Sitting Bull~

The March equinox marked the moment the Sun crossed the celestial equator---the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator---from south to north.  It had been hovering in the wings for weeks, giving tantalising snippets of sunshine, blossoms on trees and early flowers. Birds wooed in the hedgerows and nest hunting, frogspawn laid in ponds and Ladybirds were out sun-bathing. It was time to kiss the old Winter goodbye and welcomed warmer sunnier days. Winter needed to withdraw, and let us enjoy the loveliest of seasons.

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“Is the spring coming?” he said.”What is it like?”

“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”

~Frances Hodgson Burnett~

But first, we celebrated that special day when people of Irish blood the world over commemorated their most commonly recognised of Patron Saints. Many people of Irish descent, and many who just wanted to be Irish for the day, celebrated by wearing green and feasting on Irish stew, soda bread, corned beef with cabbage. I wore green on St. Patrick’s Day and was the only celebratory thing I did.

But, since everyone's a little bit Irish on St Patrick's Day, and Babe’s half-Irish, I tried a few Irish recipes. Sans the Guinness, we’d potato cakes with Irish lamb stew and instead of Irish apple cake, a slice of upside down pineapple cake for dinner and a toast to all things green.

St. Patrick’s is an enchanted time—a day to begin transforming winter’s dreams into summer’s magic

~Adrienne Cook~

It was a wondrous day of sun on Good Friday as the whole country basked in the sunshine with temperatures soaring and winter seemed a distant memory. The sky was azure blue and the sun shone like a midsummer day. The world seemed like such a happier place when the sun was shining. With spring appeared to have sprung, thousands headed outdoors to enjoy the warmth and we too headed for the Festival of Power at Santa Pod Raceway in Podington, Northampton.

Santa Pod - Festival of Power - March

It was a 3 day event and after checking the weather forecast, we finally made the decision to go on a Friday. In 1966, permission was obtained to use the Podington  Airfield, which was formerly a wartime airbase used by the USAAF during WW2, as a drag racing complex with the 3/4 of a mile main runaway being used as a drag strip. The track was named Santa Pod after the Santa Ana strip in America, combined with the name of the local village, Podington. It was surreal to see Santa Pod opening its gates during the Easter weekend to successfully distract their fans from the Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies and hot cross buns for burning tyres, motor oil and loud noises.

Santa Pod - Festival of Power - March

Santa Pod was the home of European drag racing. It was the fastest and loudest motorsport on earth with sensational race action from dragsters and doorslammers to beetles and bikes. As soon as we drove through the entrance, we were enveloped in the smell of burning oil and screaming tyres. We joined the thousands and was directed to park in a very muddy field. Then we slowly made our way up the grassy spectators bank walking past stalls, helicopter rides, army tanks, arenas and a circus tent.

Santa Pod Raceway - March

The Festival gave the audience their first chance this season to see the beasts that were the Top Fuel Dragsters. These nitro methane guzzling vehicles were capable of speeds of 300 mph over a quarter of a mile which equated to 0-100 in .8 of a second (the first 60 feet of its run) and 0-200 in 2.2 seconds, and honestly you can feel the noise vibrating within you first before you even seen it. Ear plugs were definitely a must. Even standing still, they looked fastSmile

Santa Pod - Festival of Power - March

Unfortunately the solo runs by the FireForce 3 and 4 jet cars were cancelled. We were looking forward to seeing this mechanical monster of a machine  as was said to always stop people in their tracks as the intense heat that was propelled from the jet engine took their grip and that the roar of the car silenced the crowds as it accelerated down the strip. I found it amusing that some of these powerful machines conked out at the last minute.

Santa Pod - Festival of Power - March

Santa Pod also hosted the first rounds of both the National drag Racing Championship and the European Funny Car Series and was one of the first times that racers could see improvements they had made to their vehicles during the winter build period. They could see if their running times had improved and whether their reaction times were quicker. 

Santa Pod - Festival of Power - March

There was a break from the track for the spectators to enjoy the performances from the live action arena. First on the arena was Jez Avery, a mountain bike stunt legend and one of the originators of freestyle mountain biking. He performed an amazing show on 4 wheels, 2 wheels and one wheel which included wheelies, stoppies, drifting, doughnuts, precision driving, two wheel driving and the roll over quad. He performed all his own stunts and kept everyone on the edge of their seats in stitches over his humorous commentaries.

Santa Pod Raceway - March

Next was the Peugeot 205 Jet car fitted with a jet engine. Herve Franquin had brought his mind boggling car all the way from France to heat up the crowds. A jet engine was a reaction engine discharging a fast moving jet that generated thrust by jet propulsion. The noise was unbearable and we were very, very unlucky to be standing right in front of it when it turned and was blasted with jet fuel. It was yucky.

Santa Pod Raceway - March

Then it was the turn of the Arrepiado Stuntmen that did impossible things with bikes, quadbikes and a smart car. We fell in love when one of the crew drifted with the smart car. Drifting was a driving technique where the driver intentionally over steered the car, causing loss of traction in the rear wheels through corners while preserving vehicle control and a high exit speed.

Santa Pod Raceway - March

After all the adrenalin performances, the mighty Monster truck show came into the arena.  Podzilla and Swamp Thing. jumped and crushed the cars in a battle to find the carnage king. With jaw-dropping stunts on two and four wheels, Podzilla was built in 1998 weighing 10K pounds. It was the Santa Pod resident monster truck and a previous European champion. Swamp Thing was refurbished in 2005 and had completed in international Monster jam shows.

Santa Pod Raceway - March

After these performances ended, the arena was was taken over by the monster truck rides where visitors sat on the full size monster truck. On the track, it was the thrill of the wild fuel altereds NFAA qualifying event with the obligatory storming burnouts and unfortunate shut-downs. Crazy, suicidal, insane were the words used to describe these drivers. Featuring nitro-burning 2K horsepower powerplants sitting on a tiny frame and a short wheelbase, these machines were fast and extremely dangerous.

Santa Pod Raceway - March

There was a break for Eric Teboul to hurl down the strip at over 200 mph world breaking rocket-propelled hydrogen peroxide bike. Rocket-powered vehicles used thrust, created by the pressurization of the hydrogen peroxide to power such incredible, instantaneous speeds. Once lit, these engines continued running until they ran out of fuel, making the fueling process an exercise of life or death. Thus only  enough top fuel was put into the tank to power the vehicle for the distance it needed to run, and not a millisecond more.

Santa Pod - Festival of Power - March

We later watched the sportsman qualifying and the jetcars side by side run. The strip grandstand was packed even though it cost £5 per person to sit near the noise and the smoke. We did once before but we preferred to be on the hill. The only problem was most action was on the start line and often the bigger, faster cars were freewheeling by the last 100 yards to where we were standing.

Santa Pod Raceway - March

After a long full day of non-stop action, it was time to head home. But first, we had our picnic with the Red Kites riding the waves and crows begging for food. Then we joined the long queue trying to leave the place. It had been a brilliant day for those who enjoyed speed and noise, a must do event for petrol heads. Few motorsport venues could offer such thrilling ‘close to the action’ viewing.

Santa Pod Raceway - March

After yesterday’s excitement, I went for a gentler pursuit meeting CC and her new partner in town. The town was buzzing as there were a few Easter celebrations going on. I stopped to listen to some energetic Gospel singing at the Market Square.  When I arrived at Kahawa Cafe, it was closed!!! Since I was early, I popped over to the British Heart Foundation charity shop and came out with a few books. I went back to Kahawa where I was introduced to Mr L. We headed to Meseta where CC treated me to a lovely mug of hot, yummy steaming chocolate. We’d a lovely time catching up and promised to set another date to meet again.3

Clocks went forward an hour on Easter Sunday. Longer days meant extra hours of daylight and I am looking forward to coming home from work and was able to spent a few hours out in the garden. The morning started bright and sunny and breezy with intensely clear and blue sky. Even though the weather was still cold, the days were beginning to be longer and fingers-crossed, the sun will be brighter and warmer. I

In the garden, the birds were singing at the top of their voice. The Blackbirds had taken up station at the top of the Elderflower tree where he sang away at dawn and dusk. The red-breast sang his sweet lyrical song from the top of the bird-feeder while the Dunnock flat warbling  were lower down. The noisy and gregarious house sparrows were chirping non-stop too. The pigeons joined the chorus, cooing from the roof top.

Shots from Home - February

The highly coloured Goldfinches with their bright red angry face and yellow wing patches had started visiting the feeder which hung on the rose arch right across our bedroom. These sociable birds had delightful twittering songs and calls. I always enjoyed watching them extract the niger seeds with their long fine beaks. They were messy eaters too, dropping a lot of the seeds and other things onto the ground... I couldn’t wait for them to bring their little ones to the feeder.

Shots from Home - March

We also paid a visit to our  favourite playground. Along Primrose bank, the low-flying zig-zag flight of a Queen bee caught my attention. She was busy searching for a nest, investigating whether the site was suitable by going into the hole. We heard Water rails calling deep in the undergrowth from their  ‘squealing’ pig calls. Marsh marigold were brightening the reserve with their stunning yellow flowers.

Brandon Marsh - March

We stopped at Baldwin Hide and saw Shovelers, Mallards and Tufted ducks enjoying the high water levels. A Great Crested Grebe in his spectacular breeding plumage cruised past. We headed for East Marsh Hide where a pair of Oyster Catcher were busy feeding, probing for worms with their long, orange pointed bills. From time to time, they gave out a loud piping alarm call.

Brandon Marsh - March

We continued on and as we walked under the canopy of trees, my eyes were peeled to the ground looking for colour as intense as summer. On the embankment, sheltered under a tangle of alder, willow and hawthorn, among moss-covered twigs brought down by the winter storms, were these scarlet elf cups. They were seemingly immune to frost damage and these flashes of scarlet heralded the arrival of spring. Their parabolic surfaces were as vivid as a guardsman’s regimental tunic.

Brandon Marsh - March

We stopped at Carlton Hide and was delighted to get close to this adorable Little Grebe which was feeding right in front of the hide. A small, dumpy dabchick which appeared to have a fluffy rear end. It was in its summer colours with its bright chestnut throat and cheeks and a pale gape patch at the base of the bill. When it finally spotted us, it quickly dived in and surfaced near the reed-beds.

Brandon Marsh - March

‘Upon this promise did he raise his chin

Like a dive-dapper, peering through a wave

Who being looked on, ducks as quick in”

~Shakespeare ‘Venus and Adonis~

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Easter Monday was a washout as the heavens opened and rain fell steadily all day. High pressure responsible for the recent settled weather was nudged out by stormy Atlantic conditions. The Easter bunny brought Storm Kate and with it a disappointing festival of ‘coats, jumpers and brollies’. The weathermen warned of a miserable start of the astronomical spring. They blamed the erratic nature of the jet stream which had turned and twisted bringing in the mixed weather. 


But then it was a good excuse to dedicate the day to lazing about, eating chocolate, watching telly, reading and blogging. Unless of course if you go to church, in which case Easter was quite a big deal. But I don’t, so please pass me the the mini eggsSmile The best thing about Easter was that it was relatively light on the wallet, as holidays go. No cards, no parties, no presents. I bunged a leg of lamb in the oven with all the trimmings and dinner sorted.

March bustles in on windy feet
And sweeps my doorstep and my street.
She washes and cleans with pounding rains,
Scrubbing the earth of winter stains.
She shakes the grime from carpet green
Till naught but fresh new blades are seen.
Then, house in order, all neat as a pin,
She ushers gentle springtime in.

~Susan Reiner, Spring Cleaning~

But the last days of March ended with a truly fabulous weather. It was dry, sunny and pleasantly warm once the sun had lifted the early morning chill. It was a good day to be in the garden. I’d bought a small 4-tier plastic greenhouse to start of my seeds. On the top tier, I’d sown Cavelo Nero, Chard, French beans and French black beans,. Below it were Borage and different varieties of sunflowers. Next was 2 trough of Mizuma and mixed salad leaf. At the bottom were more sunflowers.

In the front garden, I dug a third of the lawn to make it into a wildflower meadow. At first, I thought of doing the whole lawn but it was too much hard work, especially when it comes to weeding and watering them. The huge Pampas grass was still standing proud in the middle. I used a whole pack of wildflower meadow mix  and looking forward to something coming out. 

Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the soul

~Luther Burbank~

While I was busy digging the very hard soil, I noticed a bird feeding in my neighbour’s immaculate lawn. It was a Mistle Thrush. I quickly washed my hand and ran upstairs to grab my camera. It was still there when I came out. All you could hear was my camera clicking away.

Shots from Home - March

I loved the way this pale, black-spotted thrush stood boldly upright and bounded across the lawn picking insects and worms.. When it flew off with its rattling call, the whitish edges was visible on its long wings and tail. It perched high on top of a tree at the bottom of the driveway and sang a fluty song. They were known as Stormcocks due to country tales that  the dreamy song was the last to be heard before a storm. And that night, the heavens opened…

“In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of silence”

~Robert Lynd~

Shots from Home - March

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