We started the month by joining the thousands of petrolheads that poured into the city for the Coventry Motofest, a motoring extravaganza. This was the fourth year it had been run. As Coventry was the birthplace of the British cycle and motor industry, a 3 day festival was dedicated to the city’s motoring heritage featuring pop-up racing and demonstrations events to static displays and fringe events. It was like an Edinburgh Festival for cars, bikes and vehicles. Like previous years, the organisers had taken advantage of Coventry’s unique heritage as the spiritual home of the British motor industry. The Friargate-bridge deck and nearby Greyfriars Green were awashed with static displays of cars, motorbikes and simulators to keep fans of all ages happy.
But first, since the infamous ring-road was closed to traffic, we’d to find a place to park. Thankfully, my colleague who lived within a walking distance, offered us to park at his place. Whoop… whoop. Thanks GLW. We walked past a huge fairground at Grosvenor Road to where the action was. We hadn’t even reached the ring-road yet but the incredible noise of highly tuned engines revving up, the screeching of tyres, the smell of burnt rubber and exhaust fumes were in the air. Thousands of people were already packed on both sides of the ring-road but somehow we managed to squeeze in.
As it was closed to traffic, the ring road was used as both a pit lane and circuit. The 1.5 mile long temporary track took in a section of the ring-road beginning just before the slip road on J6, before heading all the way down to J4 and then returning to finish at J6 again. The circuit’s official start line began at the slip road just before J6, setting off into the Friargate tunnel. On the circuit, drivers negotiated chicanes before heading under J5 at Holyhead Road, with a ‘turn around’ in the central reservation. The track featured a series of crash barriers and marshal points, along with various viewing areas and spectator zones along the route.
Throughout the weekend, various events and cavalcades took place, including those from Jaguar Land Rover, Ferrari, Tesla, Viezu, Aston Martin owners club, Jaguar Heritage, Sytner BMW and Mini, Triumph Motorbikes, AP Racing,Mercedes AMG F1 simulator, British Motor Museum, Extreme Wheelie and various Classic car clubs . We were thoroughly spoilt.
We hung around the Friargate-bridge deck waiting for things to happen. . We were waited and waited and waited for something to happen. Nothing seemed to be moving. Looking around, I noticed a major flaw. Advertising banners lined the barriers making it impossible for someone like me who is 165 cm to see what was going on the road. Imagine for someone on mobility scooters and the young children. They wouldn’t be able to see anything. A few children were seen climbing on the barriers which were very dangerous. I did sent the organisers a tweet and a few people retweeted it. The organisers responded saying that they were going to do a post-mortem later in the evening.
After about 20 minutes of standing around waiting, we heard the sound of motorcycles being revved. Then we were covered with clouds of smoke and the smell of burning rubber before the riders made their way towards the starting line. All manners of motorbikes and even a high performance mobility scooter went zooming trying to outdo each other. A few revved up and did a wheelie that thrilled the crowd.
Next was the competition car parade which went on for quite a while as there was a large number taking part. Unfortunately, there was an oil spill somewhere and they’d to stop the parade and clean the mess. While they sort that out, we wandered around the ring road live action arena, where a welter of events were held. We checked out a long list of exotic, iconic and classic machinery. Among them was the power maxed racing BTCC Vauxhall Astra which marked Vauxhall’s return to the British touring car racing. When it took part in the circuit, it was driven by Paul Hollywood, the Great British Bake-off judge. Then there was the ferocious racing Nissan GTR super-coupe, the hair-raising Silk, Cut-liveried Jaguar XJR-9 and off course, the Jaguar XJ13.
The Power Maxed BTCC car was supplemented by an array of classic touring cars from past series and McLarens past and present including the 12c Spider and 650s Spider from the McLarens Owners Club. One owner thought Babe was a professional photographer and asked if he wanted the doors opened to show off the interiors. Yesss, please. We photographed to our hearts content before the masses joined in. Thank you, kind sir.
We walked towards the city centre searching for the live action circuit, which I think was the highlight of the festival, but they were AWOL. Why did the organisers moved them away from the main spectator area??? One more thing, the map wasn’t easy to navigate so temporary signposts should be put up to direct spectators to where the action was. Along the way, we checked out the very long queue for the Landrover experience where spectators took part in the test drive of the famous 4x4. The police car was a big hit with the kids as they took turn to sit in one and switched on the alarm. That was a very good PR exercise.
There were stalls selling all kinds of exotic food from modified vans. They were making a very brisk business judging from the long queues. For the first time, there was the Wall of Death which again was another hit. In the Bullyard, crowds were gathering for the extreme wheelie and by the fountain were classic bikes on show. It seemed that every public areas (and pedestrianised zones) had become a stage to celebrate Coventry’s automotive and engineering pedigree.
We headed towards Broadgate where there was music from Hope Coventry mingling with a myriad of privately owned classics. Hope Coventry was an organization formed to grow a connected church in Coventry for the benefit of the city. They support initiatives such as Winter Night Shelter and Healing on the Streets. But the connection to Motofest was a mystery to me. We checked out a few classic cars with their very friendly and proud owners who were more than happy to chat about their pride and joy.
We headed towards Ikea where we watched from a distance, a drifting arena under the flyover. We didn’t get close because we don’t want shredded tyres covering us. Under the shadow of the Plaza were modern bikes, Bennets and Helmet Drop. It was fabulous walking around the city-centre where we found little pockets of enthusiasts. In short, if it’s got something to do with transport, had a connection to the City of Coventry and involved an engine, it was here.
To me, the main attraction to these exhibition was the golden opportunity for spectators to get up close and personal with the array of spectacular vehicles from the past, present and future with no barriers or viewing restrictions. It was a challenge taking photographs too because everything was photo-bombed:-) There were also plenty of displays through out the city centre which we didn’t have the chance to visit.
Then it was back at the ring-road to watch the action again. It was back to the motorbikes again. The programme were repeated and we were back to where we started from. We decided to call it a day as it had been a long day for us. We found something missing at the Motorfest, a certain je ne sais quoi. Although there were the incredible noise of highly tuned engines revving up, the screeching tyres, the smell of burnt rubber and exhaust fumes were in the air and hundreds of people about, it didn’t had the vow factor. I felt it had been too commercialised with the fairgrounds, the advertising banners blocking the views and the missing live action arena. It was around, we just couldn’t find it
.After a high octane weekend, I chilled out with walking group during my lunch break. It was just a 30 minutes walk with a group of ladies from different departments in the university. It was a very good excuse to get out of the library for fresh air and socialise. The walk was a bonus. On one of the walks, I heard a familiar, distinctive whinnying trill when we walked past the ‘nursery’ lake. I scanned the waters and spotted a Little grebe. And then out of the reedbeds, 2 adorable stripey chicks started swimming towards the parent. Aaaaww…
I asked Babe to bring the cameras and after work, we scanned the lake again. They were still there, feeding, swimming and diving. I was so delighted to see them thriving here. The chicks were covered in light grey down and had the distinctive striped heads and necks. They were old enough to dive for small fishes, crustaceans and molluscs. When disturbed, they quickly dived and appeared amongst the reeds, lurking silently.
They were disturbed by this family of Mute Swans with 8 most adorable, fluffy cygnets swimming in a straight line. Mum was leading the way and Dad was at the back. Cygnets were generally dingy brown above and whitish below. They retained their grey feathers until they were a year old, with the down on their wings replaced by flight feathers. They remained with their parents for 4-5 months and might be driven off the breeding territory as soon as their plumage was predominantly white during late autumn or winter.
”The swan, with arched beck
Between her white wings mantling proudly,
Rows her state with oary feet”
The University also welcomed Stage 3 of the 2017 Women’s Cycle tour. We all gathered and lined Gibbert Hill Road to cheer them on. This year they didn’t cycled through University Road because the examinations were still on. We were given a pair of bright orange inflatable noisemaker called bangers where you banged them together and they made the most tremendous noise. Children from the nursery also turned up and what a memorable experience was it for them.
About half an hour before the cyclists were due, the road was cleared of traffic. And every time someone drove past, we cheered and banged the bangers. They reciprocated by tooting their horns. It was hilarious and very noisy. From the gatehouse roundabout, we saw a convoy of police and escort motorcyclist s leading the way and all you could hear was this deafening noise of the bangers being bashed against each other.
The whole group of cyclist were all bunched together, cycling furiously. The atmosphere was electric, and it reached maximum cacophony when the group whizzed past us. After the cyclists were hundreds of transporters carrying the cyclists equipment . In about 15 minutes, the road was empty. The entourage had carried on to Kenilworth. Then we headed back to work. What an anti-climax
On the weekend, we went to Leamington Spa to check on the Peregrine Falcons. I have been following the family on Twitter. Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and Warwick District Council Council had set up a live webcam feed of the Peregrine Falcons nesting on the tower of Leamington Town Hall. The first egg was laid on the 18/3 and the 4th egg was on 26th March. Incubation took place between 29-33 days.
By the 28th April, all 4 chicks hatched. They hatched over a period of a couple of days and the size differences were quite visible. Most of the brooding and feeding was carried out by the female, while the male hunt to supply the food. And he was a good hunter, bringing in lots of food mostly pigeons. I loved watching them snoozing together huddled in an indistinguishable mass of creamy-white down. These chicks called eyases looked quite comical as they toddled about with their disproportionately large feet.
They fledged at 35-42 days and remained dependent on their parents for up to two months. As soon as I found out that they’d fledged, it was the only opportunity to see them. We walked straight down the main street keeping an eye on the sky. We came across someone with a telescope trained on the tower. We’d a chat and he informed us that the Peregrines were out and about. We walked a bit further down and spotted one perching on one of the balconies. Woo…hoo.
All you could hear were our cameras rattling away. Unfortunately, we attracted attention and as usual were bombarded with hundreds of questions from passersby. We were on the high street so there was no place to hide. Some even crossed the road to enquire what we were looking at. We missed a lot of Peregrine actions because of the interruptions. So we walked to the back of the Town Hall where a huge crowd was gathering.
Warwickshire Wildlife Trust had set up a Peregrine watch with telescopes trained on the birds. We joined in the party and had fantastic views of the young birds. We could see the blue-grey above, with a blackish top of the head and an obvious black ‘moustache’ that contrasted with its white face. One was peering over the edge, cocking its head to size something with one enormous eye. Suddenly, it was off, arrow-like, steepling down from the balcony. The most amazing predator on the planet on earth, a symbol of power and speed, and of urban birding.
From Leamington Spa, we headed to Canley Community Centre to attend a Malaysian Cultural Ramadan event that was organised by a friend. It was part of the Positive Images Festival to celebrate the amazing heritage of and cultural traditions of Coventry’s communities. It was also a good opportunity for me to introduce Babe to the home-cooked Malaysian food that was on sale. We purchased quite a lot for our breaking fast meal. The event was well attended by people from all over the world. We left after watching a cultural performance.
We celebrated summer solstice with a trip to Slimbridge WWT. Actually, we made 2 trips to Slimbridge in June for a very special event. Because of that it would have its own special posting. Meanwhile, the longest day of the year had arrived bringing 16 hours and 38 minutes of daylight. The sun rose at 4.43 am and sets at 9.31 pm. Midsummer’s eve was believed to be a time when the veil between this world and the next was at its thinnest and when fairies were thought to be at their most powerful.
There were no fairies in the garden to cast spells but we were bewitched by this family of Goldfinches feeding below the rose arch. Their crimson faces and gold flash along the wings added a touch of tropical to the birdfeeders. The bills, adapted for winkling seeds from flower heads, was sharp tipped, and close up the goldfinch’s faces, dipped in scarlet war paint, had a mean expression.They jockeyed and bickered on the feeders, their voices a chatter of chinks, a sound like loose marbles in a pocket. We were delighted to see a juvenile following its parents to feed.
“Sometimes goldfinches one by one will drop
From low hung branches; little space they stop;
But sip, and twitter, and their feathers sleek;
Were I in such a place, I sure should pray
That nought less sweet, might call my thoughts away”
~John Keats, 1817~
Our final adventure of the month was a trip to the deep English countryside. I’d took the day off as soon as I found out about them. On 25th June, news spread out that seven European Bee-eaters had touched down in East Leake CEMEX Quarry, near Loughborough. They had set up home and looked like trying to produce some little Bee-eaters with a little luck. We left very early at 7.39 am, hopefully to avoid the crowds.
Heading along the A6006, we nearly missed the make-shift car-park in a field kindly provided by a local farmer. Without this temporary car-park, it would be difficult area to park. I wasn’t surprised to see a large number of cars already there. After paying £5 which was shared between the farmer and RSPB, we were welcomed by a warden who guided us to the viewing point. We walked across a very busy road through the 2nd gate, on a bridleway that had been recently cut where we past many smiling punters returning to their cars.
These exotic, kaleidoscopic visitors usually bred in Southern Europe and Africa and were incredibly rare breeders in the UK. Bee-eaters were Schedule 1 birds, giving them the maximum level of legal protection meant that anyone who disturbed them could face jail. RSPB had put a plan into place to protect the colony by setting up a safe viewing area with the help of a local farmer and the quarry-owners and making sure no-one wandered into the active quarry. Volunteers were appointed to marshal the car-park and guide to the viewing spot, and 2 wardens to protect the birds for the duration of their stay.
Bee-eaters nest in burrows and banks, features that were prominent at the quarry. They were prolific excavators, using their long bills and sharp talons to dig away the soil to create nest burrows around 3 metres often in sand banks, in which they laid 3-8 white eggs. They were sociable birds and nest together in small groups. The fact that there was an odd number of birds don’t meant that any left out of breeding. Often pairs enlisted a single, younger bird to help bring food and rear their chicks. Bringing up junior was very much a community effort.
It was a distinctly British’s summer day, grey and cold when we were there. From a distance, we could see a large crowd with their cameras, scopes and binoculars facing a large ash tree, across a quarry. We managed to find a space and followed their eye line and hey presto, little rainbows against a cloudy sky. Small shapes flitted between the top-most branches. There were three sitting together in the dead branches at the crown of the tree, taking turns to dart up and catch bees, butterflies and dragon-flies, which they tossed into the air before catching them again in their blade-like beaks. Playing with your food, to disable the sting, was necessary if you’re a Bee-eater.
These exotic-looking birds featured a stunning, rich-coloured plumage of patches of bright blue, orange, yellow and ginger. Through the binoculars, I saw the ruby red eyes, burnished copper crown, yellow throat, green-hued tail streamers and bright blue breast. These polychromatic wonder do deserve their alternative name, the Rainbow bird. After about 20 minutes, 2 more alighted into the trees. Time and time again, they would glide out from their perches hawking for food. We saw the male which was much more bronze on the wing than the greener female, feeding an insect to the female. Courtship feeding occurred before and during egg laying. They were never still, calling, flying, feeding and mating. They were just fantastic to watch.
Bee-eater sightings had been on the increase in the UK, pushed northwards by climate change. They would likely be established visitors and RSPB were working hard to provide the right habitats to accommodate them. Thank you to the wardens, volunteers, the local farmer, Cemex and Notts Wildlife Trust for making the experience so straight forward and to these exotic beauties for making the visit so memorable. Fingers-crossed, we will be back again when the chicks fledged.
June was Father’s Day in the UK. Although it wasn’t a major celebration in Malaysia, I still wished my father a Happy Father’s Day. He’d always been loyal to me and I know he was proud of me. That meant everything to me. I always called him every Saturday without fail for a brief chat about this and that and the love we shared could be felt although we were thousands of miles apart. I felt his smiles and imagined his twinkly eyes as we spoke. Happy Father’s Day Abah. I loved you with all my heart.
“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person:
He believed in me.”
June was a sad month for me and my family. My beloved Mum left us 2 years ago and it still felt like yesterday. At home in Malaysia, my father organised a prayer reading for her and invited relatives, close friends, neighbours and religious men from the mosque. Here, I prayed in the mosque and since it was Ramadan, contributed fruits to the breaking fast meal.
“A mother’s hug lasts long after she lets go.”
We ended the month with the sighting of the new moon. One of the most joyous days in the Islamic calendar, Eid al-Fitr, also known as Eid-ul-Fitr or Eid, was a celebration that marked the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. It was celebrated on the first day of Syawal, the 10th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The observance began when this new moon was sighted.
*quoted by L.M.Montgomery