Sunday 27 November 2016

Mud gazing

One of my favourite winter things is to go to the wetlands place and watch the sun sinking lower and lower in the sky at the end of the afternoon. All life's stresses seem to fade a little when I'm there watching the birds. Whatever life throws my way, they just continue going about their business, hunting for food, paddling and wading, settling into their roosts, oblivious to this complicated existence us humans have created for ourselves. I breathe a little deeper and try and fix the memory in my mind.

The Bewick's swans are back from the Arctic Tundra in Siberia bringing with them their new youngsters. I don't have a photo, the biggest boy had my lens. But it's lovely to see them return each year, these rare little swans who have flown so far to spend the winter in our neck of the woods. Their numbers are dropping, no-one knows exactly why. Maybe power lines and wind turbines, maybe lead shot, there could be lots of reasons. A reminder that we need to be careful with this planet of ours.

The biggest boy and I went on a birdwatching course last week to learn how to estimate bird numbers. Out on the estuary there are often hundreds of each species, even thousands on occasion. It involved a lot of standing in the freezing cold staring out over the river. I didn't have a telescope so I got to hold the clipboard. I'm glad we had the chance to do it, but I did reach the end of my endurance. A lot of the children's activities seem to involve me standing outside being slowly frozen. I'm sure it's the same for many of you. By Sunday evening I am glad to sit down in the warm, albeit with the scent of damp football boots wafting lightly about the place.

Look at this chap.

A common eider. He isn't cold at all. Stuffed with eider down you see. Apparently the females line their nests with down from their breasts, which is so toasty and warm that their chicks can happily survive in Iceland. The locals keep them safe from predators, then later on they gather up the eider down from the nests. Apparently the total annual harvest fits into one small truck. Precious stuff.

Round here we are working on our Christmas lists. FC does not want any last minute panics or surprises. The littlest boy has added lots of helpful instructions to his, "Pretty big please" and "Please make sure it is waterproof". One of his requests is a 3D pug jigsaw puzzle. At the bottom he has put "PS If you can't make a 3D pug jigsaw puzzle I will be fine you could just make it a 2D jigsaw puzzle pug". He has spent a lot of time telling us that FC makes everything himself. So you can basically ask for whatever you want as he will just make it and it won't cost any money. Considering this conviction he has been remarkably restrained. If it was me I would go large and request a greenhouse or a pony. What would you ask FC to make for you?

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Courtyards in autumn

I had a couple of hours in Bath the other day. I love to see the bits of greenery that people squeeze into the tiny city courtyards and balconies. The crescent in most of these pictures is Royal Crescent in Bath, built between 1767 and 1774. There are fantastic gardens out the back, but people have put in a few roses and evergreen shrubs out the front as well. The crescent overlooks a beautiful park, so the views are no doubt wonderful from all windows.

I like to see evergreen plants in containers. They add so much to the look of a garden in winter. In summer they can be more of a backdrop to the floral drama, or still be on their own for a plainer, elegant look. There's a house up the road from me that has the most beautiful front garden. Pots with various evergreen shrubs and trees. It's cool and shady and doesn't change much, even in the summer, but it's always eyecatching and smart. Maybe I'll take a sneaky photo for you if I can.

On the homefront I have been endeavouring to discover what the biggest boy has been doing at school. Art for example: "A drawing." I enquired what it might be of. "A building." And music, what was he doing in music? "Notes." Well, that's me all caught up then.

What are you all up to now the evenings are long and dark and the days are short and cool? I am reading, knitting, drinking cocoa, lighting the odd candle and curling up with a hot water bottle whenever I can manage it. Please don't ask to see the knitting, it's fairly ghastly. A bubblegum pink scarf. I can't imagine what I was thinking when I ordered the yarn. Probably done late at night when my commonsense was gone for the day. If I look back through my blog maybe I'll find a post explaining my thought processes. "Pink, a wonderful colour, it will make me look so lovely in the cold months of winter. A real shot of warmth and brightness." Oh my. The yarn is showing every flaw in my knitting (yes, all of them!) as well. Maybe I'll give it to the littlest boy for his bear. Although it's cotton yarn so at least it shouldn't irritate my skin. The wool one I made is not agreeing with me this year. Which is a shame because in a fit of optimism at discovering wool I could wear I made a second one, a big purple one. Maybe I will give them both to the bear as well. He's fortunately not hugely fussy.

Saturday 12 November 2016

Flowers, Remembrance, the elephant and dancing to the end of love

Hullo all. Nothing much going on here, just a few straggly end-of-season flower photos and a smattering of random thoughts.

On Thursday nineteen thousand two hundred and forty little figurines were laid out on College Green in Bristol. They represented the men and boys who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The first day. It was a moving sight as you can imagine.

I'm not really sure what to say about the elephant in the room. It's all been said, and far more eloquently than I could manage. Despite having fewer votes than his opponent, he has won. Despite everything he has said and done he has won. A man whose aides do not trust him with his own Twitter account. I shan't bang on about it. You know how I feel about the environment. It's not the only point of concern, but it's something that is close to my heart. I shall keep on doing my bit despite it all. All I can do.

On the homefront I have been a bit aimless this week. Rearranging shelves, making nice groupings of notebooks and humming Hallelujah. I remember walking through the underground with my eldest son and hearing someone singing it so beautifully. Always sad to say goodbye to a poet. His love from the sixties, Marianne, died in July of this year. At her funeral his farewell letter to her was read. He said, "... our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine."

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Apple time

Round the back of a nearby pub there's a fantastic apple orchard. On Saturday they held an apple day in conjunction with a local organisation which promotes the conservation of the area's natural and cultural heritage. And no, that isn't just drinking cider.

There were apple things for the children to do, information about apples and orchards, basket making, Morris dancing, singing (including a song with the immortal line, "A bit more cider won't do any harm") and of course the pressing of apples. The littlest boy declared it one of his best days out, despite it all being fairly low-key.

Somehow I didn't manage to take any pictures of the fantastic old machine that chops the apples up, or of the press that squeezes out the juice. But it was a pleasure to see things done in the old way. There was as much freshly pressed juice as you could drink, and as many apples as you could eat.

We didn't stay to the end because we cycled and I didn't fancy the country lanes in the dark. After we left the bonfire was lit and there was a barbecue with, most probably, cider. And by cider I mean proper West Country cider; cloudy, appley and fairly lethal. Rough is the word you'll hear used about it. Cider is something different in America I think. It must be quite a surprise if you're just expecting apple juice.

I shall close with a smile and a wave to US readers. I hope things go the way that you want today. Not long now...

Friday 4 November 2016

Old and new

I took the boys down to the banks of the river recently for a gallop along in the fresh air. The tides have been particularly high lately, and this was the corresponding low tide. Miles and miles of uncovered mud and sandbanks.

In the distance you can see the Severn Bridge. It's just celebrated its fiftieth birthday. I watched a programme about it the other day, and it really was amazing to see how it was built. It's a suspension bridge and still considered one of the finest bridges of its type in the world. It has Grade I listed status.

The Queen opened it in September 1966, just a few weeks after England won the world cup. She then went on to Filton in Bristol to look at Concorde which was being built there. Everyone was on a bit of a high. The bridge replaced the Aust ferry and allows people to get from South Gloucestershire to Wales without making a big loop up through Gloucester and back down the other side of the river.

The foundations of the bridge were laid each day in the brief couple of hours when the tide was low enough to work on the river bed. Then the men would have to pack up and wait for the next low tide 10 hours later. I've mentioned the tides here before. The Severn has the second highest rise and fall in the world, as much as 15m (49ft). When the tides are exceptionally high there is a bore, a wave which runs upstream. There has been one recently, and quite often surfers come to ride it. There's only one wave per tide, so if you fall off you have to wait 12 hours for the next one.

The bridge has a footpath, so if you choose to you can walk across. To be honest I'm not a fan of walking over scary things, especially with children in tow, so I've never done it. You're obviously quite close to the traffic as well, so it's not the most peaceful of strolls. Maybe one day.

The bridge is a thing of beauty from the distance. A delicate looking structure, belying its strength. It's the gateway to Wales, a place you know I love, and for the pleasure of crossing it you're required to pay £6.60 (about 8 of your US dollars). Worth every penny I think. Coming home is free.

Further downstream is the newer bridge, often called the Second Severn Crossing. A bit of a brute by comparison.

The new bridge is twenty years old now. It carries more traffic than the old bridge, although we usually cross on the old bridge.

You can see what I mean about the low tide. The river is out there somewhere. The mud flats are fantastic for wading birds, and are important overwintering grounds for many species. There are a lot of fish as well, including migrating eels and salmon. All in all it's a pretty fantastic place, although at a glance it might seem a little godforsaken.

There have been murmurings about harnessing the tidal power of the Severn. I'm not in favour. Despite the need for green energy sources this area is too valuable for wildlife for man to mess around with any more. We've meddled quite enough already, it's time to leave well alone.

Wednesday 2 November 2016


Autumn has been phenomenal this year hasn't it? Or maybe it's just me. I don't remember the trees being anywhere near as wonderful last year. This time around the colours are glorious. Down at ground level fungi are popping up everywhere despite the lack of rain.

The first and last pictures are mushrooms in the carrot patch. The second and fourth pictures were taken from a canoe when I was paddling around with the littlest boy. He was absolutely furious with me for stopping to take fungus pictures. The others were taken on our walk the other day. I'd love to know what they all are, I really must start learning a few. My toadstool knowledge is almost non-existent.

The farm up the road has bags of "Field Mushrooms" for sale. I haven't been brave enough to try any, although I'm sure they know what they're doing. Do you ever eat wild mushrooms?

I remember the programme I watched about the gardens at Buckingham Palace a while back. Apparently there are more different types of fungi there than anywhere else nearby. Something to do with leaving dead wood around I think. There was a mycologist studying it all, and I seem to remember reading somewhere that two new species had been found there. It's not quite Buckingham Palace garden here, but I have a pile of dead wood and a few mushrooms so I'm well on the way. Anything sprouting in your back yard?