Monday, 30 April 2012

A Triumph of Hope over Experience

I think this is quite a young cat! 

The tree is in our back garden and used to be a blue cyprus of some sort, but when it grew too big, we had all the foliage cut off by a tree surgeon, and it should eventually die, if it's not dead already.  Conifers are like that, whereas many deciduous trees would simply have put out new shoots and carried on growing.

The cat is after a collared dove which is slightly cropped off the top of the picture, and of course, it stands no chance.  It's now a good five metres up the tree and the dove (and it's mate which by now has flown away) has been watching it right from the start.

As you'd expect, moments after I took this picture, the dove flew away and the disappointed kitty climbed down.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Summer is a-coming in!

OK, so the weather these days is so typically April that you'd be forgiven for thinking it was still spring, but yesterday at Fowlmere I saw too many signs of summer to ignore. 

First, was this little fella, sunning himself on the boardwalk.  He's a (not so) common lizard actually facing to the left, about to dive off the board as I get too close, and the stumpy tail is because he's already lost the end avoiding being somebody's lunch.

Whenever the sun is shining and it's not too cold I always creep quietly along that section of the boardwalk in the hope of spotting a sunbather, and he's my first this year.  Good omen!

As I walked around the reserve I could hear chiff-chaffs and willow warblers, and was lucky enough to spot a chiff-chaff.  If you can see the legs, chiff-chaff have brown or grey legs, while willow warblers have pinkish legs.  Otherwise, if not singing, they are very hard to distinguish.   They've been here for a week or two now.

At Reedbed Hide I looked out and saw five swifts and a house martin, which are also good indicators of summer.  We suspect these are arrivals rather than migrants just topping up en passant, as the numbers slowly grew while we watched.  By the time I left, there were nine swifts, two swallows and the house martin.

I also saw a little grebe, four lapwings and a pair of teal, and while we were there, a reed warbler started singing.  Another season's first!

So the weather might be a bit unpredictable, but I think we're getting there.  Any day now, cuckoos and grasshopper warblers!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Cruelty to peas

I've just done a terrible thing to a load of peas.  I feel really bad about it.  Well, OK, I feel a bit bad as it was wasteful.

Last year I grew some peas called Ambassador and had really poor germination.  This year, using the same packet of seeds, I was determined to care for them better, but despite nurturing them and watering them, only about three came up.

"Right" says I, "We'll see about that!" and I took the remainder of the packet, about 100 seeds, and chitted them (ie put them on a dinner plate between several sheets of wet kitchen towel and stuck them in a clear poly bag on the windowsill in my office.)  Within a few days, many were showing roots, (this is what chitting is designed to do, of course!), so this afternoon I started planting them out.

The trouble was, as I started excavating little holes into which to put them, I kept finding germinating peas.  So first I had to plant a fresh row on either side of the existing ones, making rather broad strips of plants, and even then had loads left over, so have now inserted an extra row between each other row!

So I learned two things from this.  The most important is that despite my efforts at keeping the soil moist, that was obviously what had been holding things back.  We've had months of drought, but now quite a bit of rain over the past week or two.  The drought meant they didn't germinate, but then the plentiful rain got them going.

The other thing was the chitting.  I'd assumed the problem was this variety of pea just had a poor germination rate, so expected to throw away at least a third, possibly half the seeds when they failed to germinate.  Only they confounded me by giving about 90% germination.

Bliddy things!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Andrew Copson on the wearing of crosses

This is a few days old, but I am so impressed by Andrew Copson's response to claims by Cardinal Keith O'Brian, head of  the Catholic Church in Scotland, of religious persecution, that I just have to post it!  Quiet, unagressive but not budging an inch!  Andrew is chair of the British Humanist Association, of which I'm a passive member.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Beautiful Minds

Tomorrow, BBC4 TV will broadcast the first of their new Beautiful Minds series, and tomorrow's programme is about my Jenny, so we're very excited about that.

We have various friends and relatives spread around the world, and I emailed them all to say they could watch the programme on BBC iPlayer, but it turns out that's not the case.  There's some blocking device that prevents programmes being streamed outside the UK, which is a bit of a bugger.

We haven't actually seen the programme, so we don't know whether it's any good or not.  The ones we watched from the previous series were OK, we thought, so fingers crossed!

Busy day

I've been watching the sealant that glues the bath to the wall for some years now, as it gradually deteriorated, and it's finally made it to the top of the list.   The damn silicone takes 24 hours to dry, so I figured if I had at it as soon as I'd showered this morning, the 22 hours it would get would probably be enough.

In the end I compromised, just replacing the sealant at the shower end, as that was dire, while the other half of the bath actually looked perfectly OK.  That saved quite a bit of time, and soon enough I was clearing up the mess.  Good job, pleased to get that done.

I had a minor shop to do, including Frontline (flea and louse killer) for the cat, but then suddenly found it was lunchtime.  Amazing where the time goes!

While eating my sandwiches, I phoned the blood donor centre at Addenbrookes.  I had an email the other day saying they're trying to build up stocks in preparation for the massive influx of visitors for the Olympics, and, due to a change in the rules, I was in the happy position of being able to donate twice before the games start.

I got an appointment at 2pm, and it was by now 1:30, so I climbed rapidly into my motorcycling kit and rode off.  It was a super day and I really enjoyed the ride, particularly as I felt I had an excuse to press on a bit!

The nurse who took my blood was excellent.  I don't know what the technique for poking the needle into your arm relatively painlessly, but this girl was one of the best I've met.  Yes, of course it hurt a bit, but not much at all, and within quite a short time my arm was empty and I was sipping tea up the other end of the room.

After an equally pleasant ride home, I spent about an hour doing some Spanish, then made the dinner (shepherd's pie from the leftovers from Sunday's roast lamb) and now I'm waiting for Jenny to come home.

I feel as though I've hardly stopped all day!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Spanish house sparrows

With the Spanish flat unoccupied so much of the time after my step-mother died, hordes of house sparrows started resting in the beaugainvillia that grows up the columns on the back patio.  Oh, OK, here's a pic.

We like house sparrows, as they're in steep decline in the UK, and for the past five years or so we've put out food for them and increased the number of nest boxes they can choose from.  Our local population has risen from half a dozen to 25 or more.

When we went out to Spain at Christmas, 2010, there must have been well over 50 roosting in those creepers every night, and we really enjoyed sitting on the patio, glass in hand, watching them build up the courage to fly in.  We made them nervous, so we tried to keep still and quite, which kinda worked.

Since the flat is now let out for holidays, the sparrows have started roosting elsewhere, but there are still swarms of them about, and it was with particular pleasure that we watched them feeding up just before going to bed each evening while we were there last week.

I took some video footage, out of which I've clipped this very short excerpt, so you get an idea of the numbers of birds.  I think it's pretty impressive. 

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Sorting out the Spanish flat

We survived the something-stupid-o'clock (clocks leapt forward that morning, too!) start required by Easyjet only flying from Stansted to Málaga at sparrowfart or in the early evening and landed at a rather chilly Málaga airport around midday.  Colder than eStanglia, it was!

Helle Hollis, the car hire firm we use, has a Home Owners' Club, which has a Fast Track service.  This means that they process the booking ahead of time, so when we get there, they just hand over the key and tell us where the car is.  We're usually out in less than 5 minutes.  This is such a boon that I opt for it even though I could hire a car much more cheaply from a different firm.

Jenny had some work to do with a Wednesday deadline, which was rather stressful for her, but she got it done OK.  She took her laptop and we topped up the mobile phone dongle as soon as we arrived, so we had internet access all week.  OK, so there's only two places in the flat where you get any signal at all, but hey, two bars is all you need!

It being rather cool most of the week, we actually spent much of the time sitting about reading.  I finished the Dawkins Greatest Show on Earth which Jenny gave me for my birthday, then read Leaving Alexandria by Richard Holloway, some time Bishop of Edinburgh. 

The Dawkins is an excellent book, though I doubt if any of the people he wants to convince will actually read it.  It sets out to demonstrate, as you might expect, that the earth really is very old indeed and that evolution is real, and does so quite convincingly, I think.  But it will only have any effect if the target audience actually open it and read it, which I don't think they will.  Since they already 'know' what's right, why would they?

Richard Holloway's autobiography was absorbing and deeply moving.  I tore through it in double-quick time. Raised in a poor family in Glasgow, he won a scholarship (I think) to a monastery school near Newark and determined to become a monk.  However, he was sent to Accra to assist the Bishop there, and never returned to the order in Newark.  He did, however, get ordained, did a lot of work with homeless and desperate people in Glasgow, became rector of a church in Edinburgh, did a stint in the USA, then some in Oxford, before finally being appointed Bishop of Edinburgh. 

Almost imperceptibly, however, he was losing his faith.  Astonishingly, by the time he resigned as Bishop of Edinburgh, he'd changed his views of religion to ones I agree with - religion is divisive and dangerous.  He still believed in god, which I find curious, since throughout the book he refers to god as an absence he feels, rather than a presence, but he seems clearly to believe that religion has nothing to do with morality.

I strongly recommend you read this book.

Something I was very pleased to get sorted out in the flat was the net curtains in the master bedroom.  Ever since we inherited the flat, these have looked sad, the pull-cords not operating, the curtains not quite meeting, all a bit derelict.

I took them down and laid out the tracking on the floor, but contrary to my expectations, the cord was not broken, just wrongly-routed and jammed.  I unjammed it, routed it correctly and lo, we have properly working net curtains!  While they were down, we put them through a gentle wash, fearing that they would disintegrate, but in fact they came out intact and much less grey.  Now we have clean, good-looking net curtains, ready for our summer holidaymakers.  Hoorah! 

I also fixed the hi-fi, which was refusing to play CDs when we arrived.  You can use the DVD player to play CDs, but the sound quality when fed through the TV is not great.

The screws holding the hi-fi together were at the bottom of 20cm long, 15mm wide holes, and naturally, we don't have a suitable screwdriver, so I took a wire skewer from the kitchen and hammered the end flat, which yielded an adequate implement to both remove and replace the screws.

Inside the box, I stripped the CD drive (5 years working at Imerge has its benefits!) and although I found nothing wrong, the laser lens being clean, when I reassembled the box, it would play CDs, which was the object of the exercise.

I do like fixing stuff, I think you've probably guessed!