“We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.’
We welcomed the month with Hajj and with a very deep sadness in our hearts. We got a telephone call from my sister that her husband had gone suddenly. Inna lilla wa inna lilla hira jiun. I was heart-broken because I couldn’t be with my family during this difficult time. My brother-in-law was buried within 24 hours on such an auspicious and holy day. Hundreds of Muslims was in the mosque to perform the Hajj players and later they also did the funeral prayers for him. Funeral prayers were performed in congregation to seek pardon for the deceased and for all dead Muslims. What a blessing that was for the departed and may Allah blessed those praying too. Amin.
I was feeling quite low and needed something to take my mind of things. A colleague brought a huge bag of cooking apples because her tree had been blown down during a storm. I took a couple and googled for an easy apple cake. Another colleague suggested Mary Berry Spiced Dorset Apple Traybake and after checking out the ingredients, I made it. I needed something to focus and there was genuinely something very therapeutic about baking. The traybake was a hit and definitely a keeper.
– 225g butter (room temperature), plus extra for greasing
– 550g cooking apples, such as Bramley
– juice of 1⁄2 lemon
– 225g light muscovado sugar
– 300g self-raising flour
– 2 tsp baking powder
– 1 tsp ground cinnamon
– 4 large eggs
– 1 tbsp full-fat or semi-skimmed milk
– icing sugar, to dust
1. Preheat oven 160ºC. Grease the traybake tin with butter and line with baking parchment. Quarter, peel, core, and thinly slice the apples, and put them in a shallow dish. Pour over the lemon juice and toss gently together.
2. Put the butter, muscovado sugar, flour, baking powder, 1⁄2 teaspoon of the cinnamon, the eggs, and milk in a large bowl. Beat thoroughly using an electric hand whisk for about 2 minutes until smooth and light.
3. Spoon half the mixture into the prepared tin and spread it out evenly. Lay half the apple slices on top and sprinkle over the remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Spoon the remaining cake mixture on top and carefully level the surface. Scatter the rest of the apple slices over the cake mixture and press them lightly into the surface.
4. Bake for 40 minutes or until well risen and golden brown on top. The cake will feel spongy but firm, and will be starting to come away slightly from the edges of the tin. Also, the apples should be soft. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then loosen the sides with a small palette knife and turn out the cake, peel off the parchment paper, and leave to cool on a wire rack. Sift icing sugar over the top of the cake.
“The morning of the first of September was crisp and golden as an apple.”
We later went to Bradgate Park to calm our hearts and minds. Although the place was buzzing, this time we managed to get a parking space. We were delighted to see a herd of fallow deer chilling out by the entrance, enjoying the last summer’s sun. September was an unsettled month characterised by a succession of low pressure areas crossing the UK from the west. This active weather reached the peak when a deep depression crossed southern Britain. This was called Aileen, the first named storm of the season. Thankfully, the West Midlands was spared the battering and we only got the winds and the rain.
The deer were now in groups waiting for the rutting season. Bachelor group of bucks were splitting up and were lightly sparring, establishing their pecking order. Some were chilling out under the shady trees ruminating and chewing cud. They looked relax, checking out the visitors who were checking them out. These tolerant behaviour with each other won’t last long. Next month, there will be changes in their behaviour with the thickening of their necks and setting up of rutting stands.
We walked along River Lin that ran through the Lower Park. It was busy with visitors having a picnic and children paddling in the pool. Hybrid ducks were mingling with the mallards and tufted for pieces of bread thrown in by the visitors. A Common Darter was out and about. A summer and autumn species, it was usually one of the last dragonfly on the wing. Its habit of repeatedly returning to the same sunny spot made it one of the easiest dragonflies to photograph.
As we continued walking under the mature trees, we heard the familiar thin and high-pitched tsree-tsree-tsree calls. We looked up and saw at least half a dozen Tree-creepers foraging on the tree trunk. We just don’t know where to point our cameras. I think they’d just fledged since they flew in as a family group. They moved up the trunk in a progression of small hops, staring at the bottom and climbing up in a spiral fashion searching for small invertebrates, including insects and their larvae, spiders and pseudoscorpions. The intricately patterned brown plumage was ideal camouflage for a bird working its way up a tree trunk
Often described as being ‘mouse-like’, Tree-creepers were essentially speckly brown above, with a long white stripe above the eye and mottled white markings on the wings and back, and white below. They appeared larger than Wrens because of their longer down-curved bills and longer stiff tails. The tails were used as support when climbing with large feet and sharp, arched claws. Their bills were curved and sharp, for extracting insect food and seeds from crevices in tree barks. Occasionally, they may ‘freeze’ on the trunk, adopting a rigid posture and it was thought that this was an anti-predator strategy. The Welsh name ‘Dringwr Bach’ which meant ‘Little Climber’ revealed something of the character of this adorable bird.
We walked to the magnificent Tudor ruins known as Lady Jane Grey’s house. We headed straight to the end of the site where the resident fallow deer were present. They were quite restless, venturing further and further into the bracken. We stood still and tried to blend with the surroundings which encouraged them to feed out in the open. While Babe was busy videoing them, I was distracted with the loud laughing calls or yaffles from a Green woodpecker. It was more often heard than seen, betraying its presence with the unmistakeable and fast repeating ‘kew-kew-kew-kew-kew’. I followed the calls and all I could see was the bright, yellow rump as it flew off with an undulating flight.
It landed on a wooden fence but unfortunately the sun was right in front of me and I only got the silhouette. This vibrant yellow-green bird was Britain’s largest woodpecker. They were quite numerous in the compound because of the presence of anthills, their favourite food. They were often seen on the ground, stabbing with their dagger-like beaks for the favoured quarry of ants and their grubs. They also fed on wood-boring insect larvae, bees, beetles, seeds and fruits. Unfortunately, the peace was broken when a couple of kids running and screaming through the park scattered everything away. It was a sign for us to head home.
As we were walking towards the entrance, we spotted a hind or female red deer making its way downhill. It often stopped to graze on the grasses and dwarf shrubs. It was quite strange to see it on its own because they were usually in mother and calf groups. Red deer lived in sexually segregated herds except during the breeding season, when the males fight for harems of females. But it was still early for them to think about breeding. It continued on feeding and we left her as she disappeared further into the undergrowth.
September was also the month for conferences and this time I was in Brighton for the Rare Books and Special Group. My colleague and I were very lucky to be given this opportunity to attend especially when most universities could only afford to send one. We meticulously planned our trip because I wasn’t familiar with the route. I was on the train when JG texted me asking to reserve a seat because she was boarding the same train. From London, we took the Tube to Victoria Station and then the Gatwick Express to Brighton. It only took 54 minutes and then we’d to run for the local train to Falmer. As usual, we played ‘spot the librarian’. We were on the train for about 10 minutes before we arrived at the rain-soaked University of Sussex.
After registering, we’d lunch and started networking. It was lovely being introduced to new friends and meeting familiar faces. The 100-odd attendees were mostly from university libraries and representatives of independent and special libraries, archives and museums. Over three days, the conference addressed the risks that our library and archive collections faced and how to mitigate them. Topics covered included theft and vandalism and the sale and disposal of collections. Conservation and preservation issues were also touched. There were talks on disaster planning and what needed to be done on a very limited budget for preservation. It was a full-on 3-day conference.
I felt as if I was at a cataloguer’s conference because the number of times the value of cataloguing was mentioned. Alice Bovey from the Courtauld Institute passionate talk about the disposal of the Mendham Collection which highlighted the importance of cataloguing. Learning points that were identified from the story were that the ‘Peoples of the book’ (scholars, students, librarians) were an amazingly networked, powerful community. A lasting monument to the collection was the Sotheby’s catalogue for the sale of the collection, which showed how much cataloguing mattered. Anke Timmerman highlighted that libraries should have procedures that minimised the opportunity of theft by library staff and others. The cataloguing of rare books and recording with copy specific information was a key security measure.
The highlight of the conference were the library visits. We chose the Brighton and Hove Jubilee Library Rare Books Collection and the University Brighton Design Archive. Brighton and Hove Jubilee was officially opened in 2005 and was now the 5th most visited public library in England. We were here to visit their rare books and special collections which had its own dedicated reading room, We were allowed to handle some quite rare items from the 13th century. I was not impressed that the library had a recent restructuring and had to let go 3 librarians who were in charge of these collections. Now users had to make an appointment if they wanted to see/use the collection and staff from other department were on rota to service the collections. What a loss…
Then it was a quick walk to the University Brighton Design Archive. We were led down into the basement where it was entirely different world altogether. We were surrounded by archival collections that were generated by British design institutions and individual designers. The Archives had its origins in the deposit of the archive of the Design Council in 1994 which included the archives of James Gardner and FHK Hendon who both worked there. The Design Archives initiated exhibitions and contributed to other institutions. We were shown examples from the 2011 Festival of Britain 50th anniversary exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall in London and the 2015 Artist take on Britain at Hayward Gallery.
We’d a few hours to kill before meeting up at the Brighton Royal Pavilion. The group guide took us for a quick tour of Brighton city centre and our first port of call was The Brighton Lanes. Once the heart of the fishing town of Brighthelmstone, it was a the city’s historic quarter with a fabulous maze of twisting alleyways on cobbled streets. Thankfully, I wasn’t wearing heels. There were twittens and catcreeps offering a shopper’s paradise of independent shops with an extraordinary mix of antiques and jewellery shops nestling alongside specialist contemporary and designer fashions. It was crammed with quaint and wondrous shops and funky restaurants and cafes, best wandered lazily and leisurely which we don’t have.
But we’d to stop at Choccywoccydoodah, an art and design focused chocolaterie. It specialised in chocolate one-off sculptured fantasies, bespoke wedding cakes using only the finest chocolate and ingredients, chocolate gifts, birthday cakes with a choice of flavours decorated in chocolate, slabs of chocolate, chocolate fantasy pets, and really really naughty stuff. The team only used the finest Belgian chocolate couvetures and coatings, sourced from local Sussex suppliers. We went in and the place was so packed. The interiors was darkly gothic and splendidly decadent and the stuff was out of this world. I purchased the first thing I could afford and left. You could spend a fortune here.
“When you select the right kind of chocolate it is like giving your insides a hug. Everyone needs a chocolate hug.”
Then we walked to the seafront to check out the derelict West Pier. The seafront was deserted as it was closing time and it was nearly the end of summer. Designed and engineered by Eugenius Birch, the pier was opened in 1866. It was closed in 1975 because of safety concerns and granted Grade 1 listed status. On March 2003, it was destroyed in an arson attack and then deliberately set on fire in May. In January 2013, part of the derelict eastern side crumbled into the sea following cold conditions. Now beyond repair, it will inevitably degenerate and reclaimed by nature. The blackened frame had became a much photographed Brighton landmark with its sculptural remains casting an eerie beauty over the seafront.
We arrived just in time for the private tour of Brighton Royal Pavilion which also included a drink reception. The Royal Pavilion, also known as the Brighton Pavilion, was a Grade II listed former royal residence. Beginning in 1787, it was built in three stages as a seaside resort for George, Prince of Wales, who became the Prince Regent in 1811. It was built in the Indo-Saracenic style prevalent in India for most of the 19th century. With his love of visual arts and fascination with the mythical orient, the interiors were lavishly furnished and decorated with Chinese export furniture and objects. The current appearance of the Pavilion, with its domes and minarets, was the work of John Nash, who extended the building in 1815.
One of the striking things I learnt from the tour was that the luxurious collection of bespoke designed furnishings and objects that King George IV proudly amassed was completely stripped after his death by Queen Victoria. The collection that we saw was some of the original objects which had been begged, borrowed and purchased from their new owners. There were also objects that had no Royal Pavilion provenance but were right for the period, which were on long term loan from other collections such as Apsley House. There were also items on loan from the the Queen, on one condition that the items can’t be photographed or reproduced without prior permission which I only discover after I’d photographed the opulent music saloon. Oops…
One of George IV’s greatest passion was music and the Music Room was restored to the magnificent original scheme created by Frederick Crace who was the chief decorator. Our jaws dropped when we stepped into the room. The extraordinary interior was lit by 9 lotus-shaped chandeliers. The walls were decorated with rich red and gold canvases in the chinoiserie style supported by painted dragons. The windows were dressed with opulent blue-silk satin draperies supported by carved flying dragons. When you looked up, the magnificent gilded domed ceiling was made up of hundreds of plaster cockleshells creating an illusion of height. We walked on a beautiful reproduction of the original hand-knotted and fitted Axminster carpet. Such extravagance!!!
We came down with a bump when we were reminded that we’d to board the bus for the conference dinner which was held at the University. We walked through the very plush garden that had been restored to Nash’s original Regency vision. It was said to be the only fully restored Regency gardens in the UK. While the rest of the group were oohing and aahing over the stunning arrangements, I spotted a fox sneaking into the grounds and no one noticed. I slowly followed after it and saw it grooming itself. It was less than a metre away. After posing for some photographs, it slowly slinked into the darkness. I quickly joined the group who were still posing among the statutes in the grounds.
We’d our conference dinner at the University. How I wish we could have dinner at the impressive Great Kitchen of the Royal Pavilion but cie la vie. We’d a three course dinner and I chose the French onion soup with toasted cheese croutons for starters. The main was salmon with a roasted seed crust and served with creamed leeks and potatoes. To end the meal, I had the glazed French apple tart served with clotted cream. Yummy. Thankfully there was no after dinner speaker and JG won something during the lucky draw. We spent the night just chatting, laughing and just enjoying each other’s company because the conference was ending the next day. The 3 days just flew.
After the long train journey back to Coventry, Babe and I went for a walk to Brandon Marsh to stretch our legs. Babe too hadn’t be out when I was away. We went straight to Steely Hide because there were several sightings of the Kingfisher. As we walked along the path, we came across several varieties of fungi sprouting from the damp and rotting trees. The Hide was empty and we made ourselves comfortable. A Heron was skulking among the reed-beds while Mallards were dabbling in the water. Below us, Southern Hawkers were busy patrolling.
“Dragonflies are reminders that we are light and we can reflect light in powerful ways if we chose to do so”.
Suddenly we heard a high pitch whistle ‘chi-keeee’ and saw a bright blue and orange flying low over the water and perched on its favourite pole. We saw it bobbing its head up and down which meant that it had spotted a fish and was gauging the position of the fish. It must also make some allowance for the refraction of light through the water’s surface because when it dives it closes its eyes, using its third eyelids, just before impact with the water. The momentum carried it completely under water and with its beak open, seize the fish before bobbing up to the surface and flying back to its perch. Here, the fish was adjusted until it was held near its tail and beaten against the perch several times. Once dead, the fish was swallowed head first.
While it was perching, I took the opportunity to admire its iridescent plumage. It was a splendid sight, bathing in the sunlight. Kingfishers were often seen as a sudden flash of glistening blue in flight but in reality they had an orange-red plumage underneath with a cobalt-blue back, tail and head and a white bib. The brilliant blue of the back feathers were from light striking specially modified layers of feather cells. The legs were short and red or orange in colour and a dark, dagger-like bill. Females had reddish base to their lowered mandible. Such was the bird’s purity of colour that the Welsh poet William Henry Davies wrote
“It was the rainbow gave thee birth
And left thee all her lovely hues”
Kingfishers don’t have a song though it does have the distinctive shrill whistle.Although fish formed the main part of their diet, they also ate aquatic insects, ranging from dragonfly nymphs to water beetles. Adults paired in the autumn, but they retained separate territories until the spring, when they gradually merged together. They flew at only one pace, fast and straight but could hover when fishing which was a sight to behold. A Kingfisher, said to be the first bird to fly from Noah’s ark after the deluge, supposedly received the orange of the setting sun on its breast and the blue of the sky on its back. It was considered a symbol of peace, promising prosperity and love. What a bird.
That kingfisher jewelling upstream
seems to leave a streak of itself
in the bright air. The trees
are all the better for its passing.
It's not a mineral eater, though it looks it.
It doesn't nip nicks out of the edges
of rainbows. - It dives
into the burly water, then, perched
on a Japanese bough, gulps
into its own incandescence
a wisp of minnow, a warrior stickleback.
Or it vanishes into its burrow, resplendent
Samurai, returning home
to his stinking slum.