Wednesday, 9 December 2020

The Silence of the Birds

The weekend before last saw us taking a trip to Winterbourne Downs, a nature reserve near Salisbury. It was R's idea - he looked up places of interest online and I went along with it and made a picnic.

 I'm not sure what I had in mind really; probably something along the lines of Slimbridge Wetlands Centre, with lakes, numerous hides and birds aplenty. Not so! The 1 'hide' that we discovered was a wall near the entrance that resembled one of those saloon door style affairs, revealing faces and legs below the knee. I'm not sure that the birds were fooled! A family was there when we arrived and we patiently waited, maintaining our social distance, until they had finished. There was talk of green woodpeckers and we tried to look enthusiastic, despite having watched one in our garden that morning over breakfast. To be fair, anything would have been exciting. I'm not sure if it was the time of year but the birds were conspicuous by their absence. 

There was a field that had been planted with various bird friendly plants - linnet and the like - but again, winter didn't show it at its best. We plodded around the marked route. The views were pretty but there were midges galore. Eventually we sat on a handy bench and got out the picnic. R pointed out a crow in the distance! It was only when we sat down that we realised what was wrong. Apart from the distant noise of some traffic, there was silence; no birdsong whatsoever. Neither of us could remember the last time that had happened and it lent a strange sci-fi atmosphere to the picnic. 

After lunch we walked around the perimeter of the reserve. Suddenly, we heard them - birds! Sadly, not within the reserve but in the trees in the distant field. The highlight came when we were returning to the car, when we spotted not only - wait for it - a robin but also a  spotted woodpecker.   Again, common garden birds but we took what we could get! Maybe we will return in the summer when I'm sure it will be much better. 

Other trips out and about this month include:

A return to Chawton in Hampshire (home of Jane Austen) to redo the circular walk we did earlier in the year. I love the cottages overlooking the church in the nearby village of Farringdon:

Massey's Folly in Farringdon. Thomas Massey was the rector in the village for 62 years. He spent 30 years building the folly, just him and a single bricklayer. The purpose was unknown, but it has since been used as a school and village hall:

Fyfield Down Nature Reserve with burial mounds and sarsen stones:

View from our picnic spot:

Ludgershall Castle. Constructed in the late 11th century, it was later turned into a luxury residence by King Henry III:

Other happies include:

A Christmas wreath. I usually make one but thought I'd support our local market this year:

Lighting the Advent candle. Bought from Winchester Cathedral earlier in the year:

Enjoying the Winter sunrise - photo obtained by hanging out of the bedroom window!

And last, but definitely not least, my Yarny Advent Calendar that I swapped with Barbara from Coastal Ripples . This has brought me such joy after, what has been for all of us, a truly ghastly year. I really look forward to opening my daily festive packet. At some point during the day I can be found, cup of tea at my side, using the yarn to add a square to my cosy memory blanket. It is definitely one of my daily 'trio of blessings'.

As well as delicious tea, Barbara has also included some seaglass - I do love a bit of seaglass......

..... and some periwinkle shells. Such gorgeous touches from her beautiful island of Jersey. I have added them to my bowl of treasures where I keep fossils, crystals, special stones etc.


Here is my cosy memory blanket. The top row and the 3 squares on the left of the row below are from Barbara. I love them to bits!

With the bits of yarn leftover, I am making up a magic ball so I can add them to my crochet scrappy blanket in the New Year. I don't want any to go to waste.

Well, that's all for this week. Probably this month too, as I'm not sure that I will get around to posting again this year. We're off to get a Christmas tree this weekend and then - great excitement- we have a theatre trip to see 'A Christmas Carol' at The Watermill; I can't wait!
Wishing you and yours a happy holiday season and here's to a brighter 2021!

Merry Christmas. xx

Monday, 23 November 2020

A Gallstone of a Year

I'm an early riser and, every morning at 5 to 6, I listen to Radio 4's 'Tweet of the Day'. It is a moment of quiet sanity before the usual trauma of the 6 o' clock news. By far my favourite presenter is Samuel West, the actor son of Timothy West and Prunella Scales, who recently triumphed as Siegfried Farnon in the remake of James Herriot's 'All Creatures Great and Small'. His descriptions of the bird calls are sheer poetry and this post's title is a misquote from his recent programme on the Eider duck. In it, he described the 80s as being 'a gallstone of a decade'. In his teens at the time, and worrying about the cold war, he decided that what he would choose to do in the event of a 3 minute warning, was feed some ducks. Speaking as someone who feeds the numerous ducks in our garden on a daily basis, I can only agree that as choice of final activities go, it's not a bad one. Incidentally, his description of the noise the eider duck makes was 'like a coven of Frankie Howerds, gossiping round the village pond'. Not only is this hilarious, but also uncannily accurate. You can listen to the call  here and judge for yourself.

2020, I think we can all agree, has been a bit of a gallstone as well - and having undergone a cholecystectomy many years ago, I feel quite qualified to make the comparison. I have noticed that my blog posts have become few and far between. This is not only because we have ventured out less and done far fewer exciting things during lockdown, but also because my mood has meant that I haven't had the inclination to write more. Today though, I am forcing myself. The camera is filling up and I want to clear it and start afresh.

Here then is a photographic representation of the past few weeks chez nous. It's not terribly exciting I'm afraid, but it's the best I have at the moment:

Trying to capture a photo of the green woodpecker on the bird feeder. As you can see, I failed miserably!

Glazing my 'Autumnal Man'. I'm reasonably happy with it given the glazes that were available and, if nothing else, at least it emerged intact from the kiln. I have named him 'Mabon' after the pagan festival that takes place around the Autumnal equinox. It's all about reaping what you sow - both literally and figuratively. 

A Sunday walk around Whitchurch:

Candle making on Diwali. The timing was purely coincidental. The pots were the first items that I threw on the wheel, so they wobble a bit! The mug celebrates the coronation of Edward VIII, which of course didn't take place. I picked it up at a charity shop for £1; not too bad for a bit of history.

Another walk and picnic, this time around the Durrington Walls settlement near Woodhenge.

The 'Cuckoo Stone'. In the Bronze Age the cremated remains of 3 people were buried in pots near here.

A stonechat. I might like listening to 'Tweet of the Day' but I'm no expert when it comes to bird identification and had to look this one up when we got home.

Woodhenge. A timber monument with 6 oval rings of posts, built around the same time as nearby Stonehenge. Like Stonehenge, they are broadly aligned with the direction of midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset. Pottery, tools and human remains were found nearby. The posts were of varying sizes and their places are now marked by the concrete pillars seen below.

    'Zombie Land' socks have been finished, blocked and worn.

A little premature, as usual:

I didn't carve a pumpkin for Hallowe'en this year - part of that general Covid malaise again - but we did enjoy pumpkin soup and roasted seeds.

I managed to fit in a visit to Bristol to see E just before the second lockdown was announced. We stocked her up on provisions from the local zero-waste shop:

My orchid has been flowering its little heart out for several months now. There was a period when I was given quite a few of these as gifts and managed to kill them all with monotonous regularity. That was before I realised that they quite like the conditions in the bathroom and, since then, we haven't looked back: 

Re-reading my favourite book. They didn't even manage to spoil this in the 'kill a book' sessions at school. Does anyone else remember those wrist-slashingly awful lessons, where everyone took a turn to read a page? Harper Lee's tale makes me both laugh and cry, and I was both bemused and dismayed to learn recently that it has been removed from the Mississippi school reading list after an official claimed that 'the language made some people feel uncomfortable'. As far as the rating in my book journal goes, there aren't enough stars in the sky.

Walking along the Ridgeway on a beautiful Autumn day:

A walk closer to home at Donnington Castle:

Making vegan banana bread. It keeps surprisingly well and has accompanied us on many a picnic. Recipe to be found here.

A very blurry photo of a deer in the garden. There was a tiny fawn too but it was rather elusive. A few weeks ago our neighbour came round to ask if we had an injured deer in our garden as she had spotted one and called the RSPCA. We hadn't, but have seen it since. Somehow it has lost a rear leg but is managing to get about and feed itself, so I am hoping that it survives. Apparently, muntjac are considered pests, so I imagine that if the RSPCA had captured it, they would not have released it back into the wild and, instead, it would have been killed. As it seems to be managing, and no longer appears to be in too much pain, I hope it's left well alone.

Finally, one of my favourite teas. Rather a strange photo I know, but these were the teabags that E used to get from the dining room when she lived in Wills Hall in her first year at uni. We haven't seen them since, but she found an old one recently when tidying out her drawers and gave it to me. As it was the last one, I kept it for a while and used it when I had a quiet moment to savour it properly. It tasted of Wills.

Well, that's my camera all clear. One more week of lockdown to go before we revert to the tiered system. Stay well and cheerful, my friends. May your tier be low in number and any gallstones few and insignificant.

Toodle pip for now. x

Monday, 12 October 2020

Reasons to be Cheerful

I'm normally a big fan of Autumn. This year though, I'm feeling a bit 'Blah' about it all. I blame the Coronavirus. I feel as though we have been cheated of our Summer: Seeing less of family; only 3 days of holiday (nice though they were) and the general feeling of doom and anxiety hanging, like the Sword of Damocles, over our heads. So, this week, I've made a concerted effort to look for the good bits that I usually enjoy and I've surprised myself with how many I've found. They've all been there, in the background, just waiting to be noticed. I've just been too busy grumbling and feeling generally sorry for myself to realise. Here then, are this month's happies:

Harvesting my pumpkins from the veggie patch. I usually carve one for Hallowe'en but R has told me that I'm not to encourage any Trick or Treaters this year; dirty, Coronavirus infested beasts that they are! :O)

Enjoying the October edition of Gardeners' World. I bought a year's subscription using my Tesco vouchers and enjoy a monthly 'Titchmarsh Moment' with a cup of tea:

Lighting the first stove of the season:

Enjoying a cheerful splash of yellow on my dining table, courtesy of the neighbours as a thank you for cat-sitting:

Making a picnic and doing the circular walk at Leckhamstead and Peasmore. This is my favourite cottage. I love the shepherd's hut in the garden. There was even the smell of a garden bonfire to add to the autumnal vibes:

Our first trip to the theatre since lockdown. They had it all organised - temperature taken on arrival, table allocated, paper menus on the table to order drinks which magically arrived during the interval. It was at about 25% capacity and it all felt very safe. The play was a 1 man affair, the actor playing multiple characters, swapping between them with impressive speed, and also the banjo and saxophone. It was a good night out with a hint of normality:

Attending a Quentin Blake exhibition. I love his artwork as I always associate it with Roald Dahl's books, a big part of my girls' childhood.

Digging out my Hallowe'en project bag and winding up some spooky yarn - 'Zombie Land' by Fab Funky Fibres:

Casting on a pair of Hallowe'en socks. Well, if I'm not allowed to encourage Trick or Treating, I've got to get my spooky vibes somehow!

Enjoying the changing colours from my kitchen window:

Hot bowls of soup - we've changed from courgette and tarragon to leek and potato and Borscht:

I'm sticking to my 'I will read mainly Classics this year' resolution, apart from my monthly Audible purchase, where I'm getting my crime genre fix! This is Book 4 of the Simon Serrailler series:

Enjoying the Autumn sunshine in between the showers:

Our theme for this term's pottery is 'Colours of Autumn', so I'm making another 'Green' Man for my garden. He still needs firing before I can paint him:

Lastly, E being home before going back to Bristol to finish her MPhil and start job hunting. To be honest, I'm more than a little concerned about the state of the job market at the moment but she's certain that she doesn't want to do a further 2 years and upgrade to a PhD. Hamish made the most of the cuddles while he could:

Well, that's all my happies for the month so far - not a bad haul considering. Throw in some mists to go with the mellow fruitfulness and I'll be a very happy bunny indeed.
Sending all the Autumnal happy vibes your way.

Toodle pip for now. xx