Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Big Garden Bird Watch 2013

Actually, it's not one of the garden robins - this one posed for me the last time I went to Abercastle, a few years ago.

The RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch is always on the last weekend of January, and every year I wonder about the timing of it.  The weather is invariably foul, and so birds are tempted into garden feeding stations and easy to count, at least.  This year's weather was relatively good here - sunny spells with a chilly wind driving  thundery showers of rain and hail. Rather bracing and conducive to sitting indoors with a cup of tea to do a bit of bird watching. I did two observation sessions, one each for the small garden at the back of my cottage and one watching next door's big bird table and surrounding shrubs. Here's the list of visitors with peak numbers, first for the cottage and then the farm house gardens:

Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus 6, 7
Great Tit Parus major 2, 2
Coal Tit Periparus ater 2, 1
House Sparrow Passer domesticus 2, 8
Dunnock Prunella modularis 1, 1
Robin Erithacus rubecula 1, 1
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs 1, 7
Magpie Pica pica 1, 1
Jay Garrulus glandarius 1, 0
Blackbird Turdus merula 0, 1
Nuthatch Sitta europaea 0, 1
Greater Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major 0, 1
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 2, 0

It's not a great list, but it is better than last year, which was hardly worth doing as the weather was so bad the birds scarcely made it to the feeders.

Of course, this doesn't include some of the regulars, as well as a number of residents who aren't generally interested in coming into the gardens (though I suppose that isn't the point of the survey). As a list, it doesn't seem to represent half the birds we see here. The RSPB aren't worried about this, considering that overall the observation data balances out.  I'm not convinced about this; all it would take is for a good number of people who might often see, for example, a Greenfinch, and then don't happen to see one while recording, and you could extrapolate from that data that numbers are falling.

I was pondering on all this while washing up on Saturday morning. Gazing out on the small back garden, I saw a peregrine falcon fly over.  There's a bird I haven't seen for a while. Shame it didn't count as a garden visitor for the list!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

January Brings the Snow ...

Makes your feet and fingers glow - according to Flanders and Swann, that is. It arrived last Friday, 18 January and is still here, albeit much melted and looking filthy.  I reckon we had at least 12"/30cm over 6 days. Not that much, really, but enough to cause disruption and damage.

I took a friend to a consultant's appointment in Haverfordwest on Wednesday.  It was snowing here when I left, although none was forecast, but at least the fresh fall made it easier to get up the icy drive from the barn.  The road had been gritted and was pretty good; wet, not icy and the snow wasn't settling (or 'sticking', as they say around here).  Haverfordwest was clear and we were going to stay for lunch when J's mobile went mad with calls and messages from friends and family, saying how heavily it was snowing, and to get home NOW!  The A40 was fine to the outskirts of Narberth, then we turned north onto the A478 and into the snow line.  Driving became increasingly interesting and was getting a bit hairy by the time I dropped J at Glandy Cross.  She had about 8 miles to go on the main road to get home, and I had about 4 miles on back roads.  Really, the driving wasn't too bad on the fresh snow (I have a dinky little 4x4) but I was glad when I got home, and already the depth of snow made it difficult to turn into the barn. After I left her, J had 2 near misses when she was just sitting in her car, as drivers took the turn into the side road badly and slid towards where she had parked (nice and safely, a good distance from the junction!). She was on the phone to her brother in law at the time and he came out with the truck from his garage, to make sure she got home safely.

Meanwhile, it continued snowing heavily, and there was no way I was going to be able to get back out again, or guarantee I would be able to get home safely that night.  So I had to postpone the belly dance taster workshop I was supposed to be giving that night in Tenby, which hardly had any snow.  There were 18 signed up for it!  We're going to try to do it next week, instead.

I heard a whooshing and cracking sound during the evening and found that it was an avalanche of snow off next door's roof, which brought down a section of guttering.  The guttering on my cottage was bulging with the weight of snow, too.

Snowy houseyard.
Thursday brought bright sunshine, but no real warmth except that generated by shovelling a path from the barn (used, amongst other things, to park vehicles out of the weather) and the houseyard gateway. When I went out in the evening to shut the hens away, I watched a droplet form on an icicle ... which started to freeze instead of dropping.  This morning, the yard outside my front door was a sheet of ice and I waded through the mounds of snow around the sides of the yard to get safely around to the hens. They are extremely fed up with the dark, wet weather, poor things.
The cats are also hating it.
Greebo and Xena curled like quotation marks and hogging the sofa
Yesterday evening's fun (?) was an abortive attempt to go to see another friend.  It was raining all afternoon, and getting steadily heavier until it was coming down in sheets.  The water was pouring out of field gateways, washing stones, muck and lumps of slushy snow out onto the roads, fountaining up from drain covers and creating floods which were becoming increasingly difficult to drive through (let alone see, in the dark). It took me 45 minutes to go 12 miles. I decided to call it a night and try to take a different route home, because I reckon I was one of the last little cars through a flood further back up the road. The local back roads were better than the main roads, but it was so foggy (or perhaps I was in the clouds?) that it was like driving in pea soup in places. Once home again and with a cup of tea in hand, I saw the flashing lights from two emergency vehicles as they sped past, and reports started to appear on the news about rivers bursting their banks and flooding in nearby towns. When I went to bed, the rain had stopped, to be replaced by a strong, gusty wind banging around and howling through the cat flap.

Snow, sunshine, ice, rain, fog and wind.  Pity the poor wildlife! I see flocks of starlings and thrushes flying over and wonder how they are coping.  Perhaps they are relying on the fields where stock are being fed and trample the snowy ground. One of the local Song Thrushes Turdus philomelos is using my back door step as an anvil, having found snails hiding in crevices under the ivy on the barn walls.
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba
It's the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch this weekend and for once, the weather isn't too bad here.  Will I see anyone at my feeder, given the competition from next door's mega bird table?

Friday, 18 January 2013

Unexpected Inspiration

Numbers in my belly dance classes are at an all-time low, and none of my adult ed classes are running, because not enough people signed up for them.  It's affecting all sorts of classes at the moment, not just mine and not just dance.

Let's imagine a class of 20 lovelies.

Anna has just found out that she is pregnant, so is not dancing, at least for the next couple of months.  Brenda is ill, and Celia relies on her for transport, so they aren't coming.  Dee's children are ill, and she feels she should be there with them. Eva's father has just died. Fiona's babysitter has let her down, and Gina's husband has forgotten (again!) that it is her night off and has gone out, leaving her without childcare too. Helen's shift patterns have changed and she can now only make one week in three, if that. Iris's car has broken down in the back of beyond and she's waiting for the AA to turn up. Jackie has stacks of homework and revision to do and feels she should be studying hard on weeknights. Karen is busy packing and sorting, due to move next week to another part of the country. Lisa has just lost her job and has no income. Mary has just had to have her car fixed on top of lots of bills and can afford either fuel in the car or a class, but not both. A couple of days ago, Nessa fell down the stairs and sprained her ankle badly, so she might be out of class for 6 weeks or more. It's cold, pouring with rain and the wind is playing across the boiler outlet pipe like a bored and tuneless aeolian harp, so all Olive wants to do after a hard day at work is put her feet up with a hot cup of tea. Penny is so stressed she forgot which day of the week it was and that she should be coming to class. Rona has friends and family visiting. Stella is there as usual, like a bright star, her enthusiasm dimming as she realises she's the only one to turn up, again, because Tessa is at a parents' evening and Vera is away on holiday.

I should be so lucky to have so many in one class.  These are all assumed names, but over the years I've had dancers all offer these reasons for absence (or similar, and more besides) and not always before the class. Recently several classes have only had one or two turn up each week, which is pretty dispiriting. We may be adults and theoretically in charge of our own lives, but complications arise with relationships, expectations and accidents and things happen to conspire against us. Life just takes over, sometimes for weeks at a time.  It's why I like to keep my independent classes as drop-ins/pay-as-you-go rather than wanting people to pay up front for a course. I know several people who are reluctant to sign up for the adult ed classes, because they have to be paid in advance and they know they will miss some, and feel they won't get their money's worth. And then there are those who would love to come to classes, but suffer from 'not-enough-hours-in-a-day-nor-nights-in-a-week' syndrome, with its symptoms of clashing activities and difficulty finding time to feed the family, eat, shop, do housework .... Bearing all this in mind, it's amazing anyone can get to class at all.

I was musing upon (whining about?) all of this back in November, chatting and sympathising with other teachers who were finding the same thing. One of the adult ed coordinators described how she had someone complaining that there was no information on a class while standing in front of the poster containing the information! (A cue for the famous pantomime response - 'It's behind you!'.)  So, I was delighted to have a couple of new faces drop in for a taster. They had seen and been inspired by 400 Roses, the Yorkshire-based British Tribal Fusion group who fuse improvised tribal style vocabulary and costuming with English country dance and Cotswold Morris and often perform for charity and other events. In class, we were doing some tribal fusion, tweaking Sandstorm, so they were able to learn a couple of steps which made up a section of the choreography, join in with that bit and see how it fitted into the whole piece.  I think they enjoyed themselves, but haven't been back - perhaps it wasn't what they were looking for.

Even so, I found some unexpected inspiration. Thinking of Christmas, I found myself humming In Dulci Jubilo.  Mike Oldfield's version always makes me smile and want to dance, so I choreographed a little light tribal fusion frolic for the season, complete with a reference to English country dance.
There was nobody in class to learn it and it really does need a group of at least 4 or 6. Never mind. I'll teach it in bits over the year and perhaps we'll get to dance it in haflas leading up to Christmas this year.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Pay-It-Forward and Other Acts of Random Kindness

I'm on Facebook, but tend to visit from time to time, so it's unusual for me to pick things up quickly.  However, I was intrigued when I saw a post from one of my friends about a 2013 Creative Pay-It-Forward, designed to get the creative juices flowing and spread a little happiness and creativity. via surprise gifts, sent at some point during the coming year.
The idea is that the first five people to comment on the status message describing the process receive a little creative something at some point during the coming year. To qualify, those five also have to post the status message and therefore commit to send something to anyone who comments and posts on the message, and so on.
I was surprised that I could be in the first five to comment on my friend's post, so joined in.  After a couple of days, I've still got 2 spare places against my post, but I've seen the message popping up everywhere so it could be a big thing!

Is there anyone out there who doesn't know about the concept of 'pay it forward'? I've been aware of it for probably 30+ years, well before the film, charitable foundation and so on.  It's simply the idea that instead of paying a favour back, you do something good for someone else.  I was a few pence short on a bus fare and someone gave me the small change I needed to get my ticket.  They didn't want paying back, but told me to do the same for someone else sometime, which I did, with the same request - pay it forward.  I loved the idea of little acts of random kindness happening, and the happiness they can bring.
You just don't know about other people's lives.  By holding the door open for the mother with a pushchair and letting that driver slide into the traffic queue in front of you, you may have made a big difference to their day.

What will I receive?  What will I send?  Will we all get to November and suddenly remember we have promises to keep? This could be interesting!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Happy New Year 2013!

We're all still here!  No noticeable changes yet, including the rain.  My heart goes out to all those people dealing with flooded homes and businesses.  Some have been flooded for a couple of weeks now, and the water still isn't draining away.  The fields here are sodden, water welling up over my boots as I slosh my way through the wet grass.  We're on a slope, so the whole lot is supposed to drain down into the ditches and streams, which have been cutting deeper channels on their way to the turbulent rivers. It's amazing to think that parts of the country were experiencing a drought last March (although we were merely dry here). The Met Office reports that 2012 was the second wettest year since records began in 1910 (2000 was wettest) and the third wettest year for Wales.  We get a lot of rain here anyway, so we received only 18% more than the long term average. Unfortunately, the forecast is for more extreme weather in future.

To counter the urge to hibernate, I went off to a beach on the last day of November and again on New Year's Day, taking advantage of fine afternoons with low tides and hoping that recent stormy weather would wash up some nice bits and pieces.  No such luck. The beach appeared to have been washed clean, leaving drifts of shelly trash and stones on the very wet sand.  There were a couple of nice pebbles - sometimes the sea leaves natural, unpolished 'cabochons' of stone.  I've been working on some stone pendants with peyote stitch bezels, and quite like the contrast of the silver lined beads against the matte stones.  I'm at the point where I need to decide what to do for a bail; bead or metal?  Or mount them directly onto a beaded rope? Feel free to comment!

For the past couple of months, I seem to have been mostly unpicking work.  Several designs have been tried and scrapped, because beads didn't work together or with the stitch I was using, or the stitch didn't work for the design. A design can look fine on paper, but not so good in reality. Well, at least I feel as though I'm learning a lot from my experiments.  Even the bracelet I made for my stepson was redesigned and remade about 4 times until I was okay with it. It started as all glass beads in 2 different sizes, and ended as alternating glass and haematite. And then I forgot to take a picture!

I also have a design in mind for the tusk shells, but it needs matching shells. Trying to match natural objects like shells and stones for shape and size is quite difficult, so I'm going to need a larger sample of shells in order to find two which are close enough. A good excuse for more trips to the beach.

There was also very little sea glass and of the few bits I found, half were still too sharp to be usable.  And that's another thing where you need a large selection to find pieces which even vaguely match.  I suppose that so much glass goes into the recycling bins that little is left as 'litter'.  A few months ago, I met a nice woman on Goodwick beach who was also looking for sea glass, for use in a mosaic.  We chatted and agreed that sea glass seems to be in short supply here.  If anyone who reads this walks the coast path from time to time, please could you do a favour for me and other crafters/artists out there.  Take a bottle with you, preferably one which is an interesting colour, and toss it off the cliff onto rocks in the sea at a fairly inaccessible point, taking care not to brain a passing seal, bird, dolphin, kayaker, climber or fellow walker, of course.  The rocks and sea will take care of the breaking and rounding off, and will hopefully deposit the bits on a beach ready for us to find and use.  Thank you!

New year, new goals. I'm not going to review my goals from last year. Any that I failed to achieve still stand. Ah, well, moving on ... my key word for this year is MORE.  As in, do more, be more productive, try to earn more, achieve more, see more of my friends.  The exception is to eat more, because I need to lose more weight.

I had a very quiet New Year, sitting on the sofa with a glass of perry, beading and watching the TV with a purring cat on either side of me. As the fireworks popped and sparkled over London, I sent a wish for us all to have a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013.