Up, Up, and Away TWTW # 67

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How often do you look up? I was in Oxford last week, and while I was waiting for a bus looked up to see a Red Kite riding the thermals overhead. I was a little surprised but did manage to fumble my phone out of my pocket and snap the picture to the left (you’ll have to take my word for it that the little blob in the clouds is said bird). It got me thinking however that we perhaps don’t look up as much as we should. When I got home, and got out of the car to open the garage door I looked up again to see a cormorant flying overhead. I’ve never seen one over the garden before, so a first for the garden bird list, and if I hadn’t looked up I would have missed it.

Robert Macfarlane wrote in The Wild Places about tree climbing and being above people:

Thirty feet up, near the summit of the beech, where the bark is smoother and silver, I reached what I had come to call the observatory: a forked lateral branch set just below a curve in the trunk. I had found that if I set my back against the trunk and put my feet on either tine of the fork, I could stay comfortable there.If I remained still for a few minutes, people out walking would sometimes pass underneath without noticing me. People don’t generally expect to see men in trees. If I remained still for longer, the birds would return. Birds don’t generally expect to see men in trees, either.

Go outside and look up! Feel free to let me know if you see anything you wouldn’t have otherwise in the comments.


This week has been one of travels, work meetings, and talk bookings.

I’ve had a sudden flurry of requests for talk bookings, including my first one for 2021. These have proved to be quite popular and I enjoy doing them, but I am wondering whether the coronavirus might put pay to some of the bookings I have coming up?

The coronavirus has also led to some interesting interactions at some of my work meetings, individuals not sure whether a handshake is an acceptable greeting and what’s supposed to happen instead. Most people seem to have settled for a knowing nod of the head and a hello.


I’m pleased to say that I think my sunroof fix on the car has been a success. I’m not counting my chickens just yet, but I did have to use the car on Thursday when it was raining quite heavily and apparently there has been no sign of the leak. I’m glad it was worth the effort to do, particularly as I spent the first couple of days of the week swathed in tiger balm patches, popping paracetamol every four hours and doing stretching exercises because I managed to crook my neck during the fixing of the sunroof. Fortunately this wore off by midweek. I’m hopeful therefore that the fix is a good one and I won’t have to go through that again anytime soon.


My social media abstention has continued. FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out, hasn’t really been a thing for me, so far at least. Anxiety levels are definitely less as I’m not founding myself being wound up quite so much by the stupidity of government and others. It has given me a chance to reflect on if I’ll go back to it and if I do what I’ll do differently. I have a few ideas but right now I’m just enjoying not being constantly picking up my phone or mindlessly scrolling through pictures on instagram.


My travelling this week has given me a lot of time to catch up on podcasts and finish my current audiobook The Unexpected Truth About Animals. I’ve also read a couple of regular books. One of my Christmas presents last year was Anthony Daniels autobiography I Am C-3PO – The Inside Story. This is all about his time playing the metallic robot in the Star Wars movies, and gives an interesting insight on that role and also some of the things that I wouldn’t have been aware of during the production of the original three movies.

The other book I’ve read is The Roo by Alan Baxter. My copy came signed by the author all the way from Australia, and it’s just a perfect little b-movie of a book. You should read all about how this little book came about on Alan’s blog.


In the week ahead, I have a birthday (and a day off) on Monday, a trip down to Somerset for a client meeting, but otherwise I’m planning on cracking on with some work at home.

Of Mice & Men TWTW # 66

Well this was a week that didn’t turn out how I’d thought it was going to at the start. The best laid plans and all that…

I had a meeting booked for Tuesday, followed by a lunch with a friend. The meeting was cancelled the day before but the lunch went ahead (see below).

Then on Thursday I had another meeting, and had made it to the railway station and purchased my ticket, when I got a text cancelling the meeting I was going to. Fortunately I was able to get my money back on the ticket. The week ahead has also been rearranged with meetings already in the diary being cancelled. I guess it just goes that way sometimes.


Lent started this week, and although it has some religious significance and a period of fasting (one of the reasons for pancakes on Shrove Tuesday was to use up stocks of eggs, flour etc), it’s also a time when people give something up. I’ve been struggling a bit with social media for a while and thought I would give that up for Lent. So at least until the 9th April, I’m not using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. So far so good and I haven’t cheated. I posted my intentions on Shrove Tuesday, put all the apps on my various devices into a separate folder and then deleted them on Wednesday morning.

I’m conscious that there are a few things that auto-post in various places e.g. this blog and my kindle, but hopefully I’ve disabled those too.

So far I’ve found it quite easy but then it’s only been a few days. Time will tell whether or not I can stick to my intentions, and the impact it has. I suspect it will also make these posts a little different, as it’s often a source of information for my writing. What happens after the 9th April also remains to be seen.


My social media retreat has given me more time for other things, including reading, and this week I’ve been reading Dead Lions by Mick Herron. This is book 2 in the Slow Horses series. I read book one – Slow Horses – last year and didn’t actually enjoy it all that much, but Dead Lions is much better. A bit of a good old spy story with a twist. The “Slow Horses” are all secret service agents who’ve screwed up at some point – left secret documents on a train; caused a mass panic; have a gambling problem; that sort of thing – but can’t actually be fired so have been sidelined in the hope that they’ll resign. Dead Lions involves a former agent dying in mysterious circumstances and a possible Russian plot, which the slow horses are the only ones to notice.

On my travels I’ve been listening to The Unexpected Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke. This followed listening to the Nature Table on Radio 4, which given that this is radio is a show and tell programme that my inner 8 year old loved, and so may not be for everyone. It is however lighthearted enough that you don’t really need to concentrate too hard on the content, just enjoy the bad puns and facts about the natural world. There are about 4 episodes of (I think) 12 planned in total.

 


My Tuesday lunch was with good friend Christian (he’s @documentally on Twitter, and writes an excellent weekly newsletter which you should all go and subscribe to [full disclosure: the newsletter is only weekly for paid subscribers, of which I’m one, but otherwise you can subscribe for free and receive it every other week]).

He very kindly bought me some old camera equipment after hearing about my starting to dabble again with film cameras, and I was dropping off some amateur radio equipment that used to belong to my Dad for him.

The pub we chose to meet at was done so completely at random, it’s location more because of its proximity to my aborted meeting, but it turned out to have an interesting segway for us.

The table we ate our lunch at was overlooked by a picture of an elderly man with a beard who appeared to be asleep. When Christian enquired as to who he was, he received the answer that it was Freddie Jones an actor, and a one time regular of the pub until he passed away. As the conversation progressed it turned out the Freddie Jones’ children were also actors, including a certain Toby Jones. We both exchanged a look and enquired if that was Toby Jones of The Detectorists. Turns out it is, and we’re both fans of that show.

Off all the pubs….


If you’re a regular here, you’ll know I talk about climate change a bit. Here’s a link to Carbon Brief’s explainer on Climate Tipping Points, which is pretty frightening. Climate records are not things that should necessarily be broken.


The allotment is looking pretty desolate at the moment. We’ve had another winter storm sweep through this weekend, so nothing much was done down there again beyond a quick visit to check everything was okay, and there’d been no damage to the shed or anything else. The shed will probably need a new roof this year, it’s starting to rot at the edges and the felt is also starting to fail. The shed has been there for over ten years, but was secondhand when we got it so in reality it’s much older than that. Hopefully a little tlc on the roof should keep it going for a little bit longer, without needing to be totally replaced.


On the subject of roofs, the bits I needed to replace the seal on my car’s leaking sunroof arrived in the week, and I spent Saturday morning taking the sunroof out of the car, replacing the seal and putting it back in again.

I’ve watched a few videos where I’ve seen it done, and it really was as straightforward as it was on YouTube. It took me about 3 hours from start to finish and although I’ll have to wait and see whether it has worked and the leak has gone, I do feel a sense of accomplishment for having done it and not ended up with a car with a big hole in the roof and the sunroof that was in that hole in pieces on the floor!


Well that’s about all I have for now. My upcoming week has changed a bit already, but I’m hoping to get out with some film in a camera at some point, and I have a number of work commitments.

About The Birds TWTW # 65

I was on my travels this week, down to see a client in Somerset again, I made what is becoming a regular stop and a visit to a charity shop on my way back and picked up a couple of secondhand books. I think I’ve purchased something in there every time I’ve been there, and their stock turnover seems to be quite frequent so there always seems to be new stuff for me to look at.


On Monday I was walking the dogs and saw a Kingfisher flying along the little creek in one of the local patches of woodland. I was quite surprised to see it, as I’ve always considered that little patch to be a little too urbanised to attract such a bird, but then what do I know. I was able to watch it for a couple of minutes and then lost sight of it.

We’ve also had a one legged / one footed Grey Wagtail hanging about our garden. He’s obviously lost the lower half of one of his legs, whether this is due to a predator or getting it caught or tied up in something and then slowly losing it I’m not sure. He seems to be quite happy though and getting about without too much trouble, although I suspect why we’re seeing him in the garden so much is that he finds it easier to find food in our garden that he would elsewhere in the wild. We’ve always had the odd grey wagtail about so it’s not unusual to see one, but we’re seeing a lot of this one. We’ll keep up with the regular feeding of all of the birds, and he’s most welcome to take his fill.


I’ve been reading a couple of books this week. First up was Ellis Peter’s – A Virgin in the Ice, which is a Brother Cadfael mystery, it was an enjoyable read although one of the things that I’ve noticed with these is the slightly misleading data that I get from the kindle. I’ve noticed this before as I have several of these books on my kindle and each one has a chunk of the next book at the end and some other material which although is interesting is not part of the story. This means that the percentage reading on the kindle is out, and the actual book ends at around 60% to 70% and the remaining portion is the other stuff. It’s not a big deal, but does make for some confusion when a book you think you’re only about halfway through ends.

My second read is Andrea Camilleri’s – The Treasure Hunt, which is an Inspector Montalbano mystery. I picked this up in the charity shop in town earlier in the week, and am reading it now because we’ve been watching the Inspector Montalbano mysteries on i-player and I know that this one is coming up soon, so I wanted to read it before we watch it. They’re quite gentle watching and we’re enjoying watching some of the earlier ones that we haven’t seen before. I hope that the tv adaptation sticks quite closely to the story in the book because I think it will make for an entertaining watch.


The allotment has been a bit of a wash out these last few weeks with the two storms we’ve had and this past weekend has been pretty wet and windy too, it’s not been too conducive to getting anything done. It’s looking a pretty desolate place, but it won’t be too much longer before things really start picking up.


It’s my birthday in a couple of weeks, and I asked for some 35mm film so that I could get one of my old film cameras out and use it. It’s not terribly expensive stuff and it provoked a little question as to why I’d want it. Anyway it was duly ordered and evidently arrived this week and was given to me as an early birthday present. I haven’t done anything with it yet, and will probably wait until my birthday before I load the camera up with it, but I am looking forward to experimenting again.


I’m on the road again a couple of days in the upcoming week, but otherwise I’ll be cracking on with work at home for clients. There are some deadlines for various things in the not too distant future, so it’s important to keep things moving on forwards.

Wherever you are I hope you have a great week.


The Weather Outside Is Frightful – TWTW # 64

We’ve just had another weekend of weather warnings, more wind and rain. Again we seem to have escaped the worst – although it’s been pretty miserable and not very conducive to doing much outdoors – other parts of the country have been very badly affected.

I’ve been staying in, reading and making chutney – another batch of gooseberry and red onion, which went down really well last year, and gives me a bit of space in the freezer after I defrosted the gooseberries.

I’ve gotten through a couple of books this week, another Vivian Shaw Novel – Dreadful Company and an HP Lovecraft novella – The Shadow Over Innsmouth. I enjoyed both, I’m slowly rereading the HP Lovecraft stories but taking my time, no need to rush them. Not sure what’s up next, although I did get given Denali by Ben Moon last week, and have a copy of Mark Twain’s Notebooks that I want to get stuck into at some point. My problem of a never seemingly decreasing “to be read” pile, doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.


Works been pretty busy this week, mostly just moving various things forward for clients, and some discussions with an old client about doing something for them. The next couple of weeks are looking pretty busy with some travel coming up.


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I was contemplating going to the London Pen Show next month, it’s just before my birthday and I thought that it might be a nice treat. Then I looked at the cost of the rail ticket, and the accompanying weekend railway works and bus replacement services and decided instead to put the cost of the rail ticket towards a new fountain pen and some ink instead. I was contemplating getting the pen at the show, but I guess I’ve cut out the middle bit!




There are many things in politics that I feel like commenting on, but I’m afraid my commenting would probably lead to ranting in fairly short order. However it is leading to some great political cartoons, at least at the moment.


And on that note I’m out of here. Have a good week everyone!

Drawing Blood TWTW # 63

Hello, how are you? I’m good. I did have a visit to get a routine blood test this last week. It’s one of those where you have to fast beforehand, in my case nothing to eat or drink (except water) from 6.30pm the night before, so I was ready for something to eat and drink by the time it was done. I also made the most of my trip to return some library books and do a few other things whilst in town. I’ll be able to get the results in a couple of days, although if there’s anything to worry about I’m sure they’ll be in touch. It’s just routine, so I’m not expecting anything unusual.


I’m writing this section on Sunday morning (I often write bits and pieces in these post in the week before they go live rather than waiting until Monday morning), the wind is howling around outside as Storm Ciara is battering the Country. So far no problems.

[Update: We seem to have come through relatively unscathed, the roof is still on the house and the allotment shed is still in one piece. Other places have not been so lucky.]


Work’s been chugging along pretty nicely this week, got quite a bit done and have set various things up for the coming weeks.


I read So Disdained by Nevil Shute this week, another one of my library haul from last week. It started off very slowly but turned into a good read once the story got going a bit. Not sure what’s going to be next, but happily I have plenty to choose from.


Mad Dogs!


We’ve had a sparrowhawk in our garden a few times over the past few weeks. I think he’s been trying his luck on our neighbours bird feeder, and if he’s unsuccessful uses our garden as an alternate landing spot. I managed to catch a few seconds of video of him this week.


This video has been around quite a bit this week. The full story can be found here.


Great post here by Amy Brady, on her love of Star Trek but how it didn’t cover climate change.


Build your own bird feeder that uses facial recognition to count the birds visiting.


 

Brave New World – TWTW # 62

Welcome back. The world doesn’t actually feel any different today than this time last week, but of course the UK has now officially left the EU. I think this is a mistake that we’ll come to regret but I hope to be proved wrong. Otherwise this week has been another busy work week (mostly).


If you’ve been reading these posts for a couple of months you’ll know that I was going through an upgrade of my work computer. I did do this towards the end of last year and have been using it for about six weeks or so. I had a lot of teething troubles, but to some extent I was expecting that, but things really haven’t settled down. I have significant problems with things like accessing my emails, printing and a few other fairly basic things. This came to a head at the start of the week when I couldn’t send emails, particularly emails with attachments.

I’ve spent a lot of time over this introductory phase in forums and other places online seeking solutions for the teething problems, but this really was the final straw. So for the remainder of this week I’ve put the new computer to one side and I’m back to my old machine to give myself some thinking space. I’m not sure what comes next. This was a big (and expensive) shift for me, and a move between operating systems (windows to mac), but I am regretting that decision somewhat at the moment.


When the above computer problems kicked off at the start of the week, I knew I needed a break and so went out to do some chores. Buy groceries, pick up a prescription and return my library book.

In the library they had a big display of  “classics”, including a big pile of Nevil Shute books. Some of them I have read before but there were a few there that I didn’t recognise the titles or the descriptions on the covers. So I picked up a few and a Julian Barnes.

I’ve already read An Old Captivity and enjoyed it, although felt the ending was a little weak.

I also finished listening to the audiobook of Andy Weir’s The Martian this week. It’s been my travelling companion for a few weeks, but I’d got down the the last hour of play, so I prioritised finishing it before my next longish journey so that I wouldn’t finish it mid-journey. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

I reviewed and posted that review for Matt Gaw’s Under the Stars which if you’re interested you can read the review here.


Yesterday’s date was a palindrome 02022020. That hasn’t happened for a while, and won’t be happening again any time soon.




Under The Stars – A Journey into Light by Matt Gaw: A Review

Under The Stars – A Journey into Light by Matt Gaw

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Sometimes you read a book that you can’t put down or one that you don’t want to end, it’s rare to find a book that does both of those things but Matt Gaw’s latest might just be that book.

 

The day my review copy arrived in the post I was by coincidence standing on my back door step at 2.30 in the morning waiting for my dog (he’s older and sometimes gets up in the night for a wee). I was marvelling at the fact that the streetlight that normally lights up our back garden was out (as are all the ones nearby since the local council decided that it could save money by turning them off between midnight and 4am), and that I could see a little more of the night sky than I perhaps normally would. This is one of the topics (light pollution not my dog) that the author covers so well. We’re so used to our artificial light that if you never miss something until it’s gone, how do you square the circle that when you remove artificial light there is so much more to see!?!

Matt Gaw takes this and more besides and goes out into the dark (and the light) to examine these issues in more detail. From how artificial light or a lack of darkness can affect not just us, but also the other inhabitants of our planet the wildlife, he goes to places such as Dartmoor where it’s darker and to the lights of London and his home town of Bury St. Edmunds. Comparing and contrasting these environments he writes eloquently about the beauty and dangers of the dark as well as the hazards of the light.

Like his last book, Matt also risks life and limb to bring this book to the reader, suffering for his art seems to be a particular hazard adventure for this author.

I really couldn’t put this book down at times and I suspect that perhaps the subject matter will not be one that many people will have thought that much about, but Under The Stars, is a book that could easily change all of that. Well written, with some stunning prose, his research with the right mix of historical facts and real life, it will make the reader think again about light and dark, and the night sky.

About the Author: Matt Gaw is a writer and naturalist who lives in Bury St. Edmunds with his young family. His first book is the highly acclaimed, The Pull of the River: A Journey into the Wild and Watery Heart of Britain [see my review here]. His journalism has been published in the Telegraph, Guardian, Times and BBC Countryfile Magazine and his broadcast credits include BBC1’s Countryfile, BBC Radio 4 Extra and BBC Radio 5 Live. He edits Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s magazine and runs nature writing workshops for children and adults. He also writes a monthly country diary for the Suffolk Magazine.

Under the Stars – A Journey into the Light is published in hardback on 20th February 2020 by Elliott & Thompson.

[Disclaimer: The publishers very kindly sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I have received no payment for this review, and the thoughts are my own.]