Tuesday, 12 May 2015

What every bird photographer needs

I do like taking photographs of birds. Unfortunately most of the ones I want to capture are either too far away or too busy doing birdy things like flitting about from branch to branch. Even allowing for my inherent bushcraft skills and my intensive jungle training, I just cannot creep up close enough without scaring the blighters away. What to do? Make myself less conspicuous, that's what.
My portable hide, complete with small stool, wifi, cooking stove and chemical toilet (you can be waiting a long time for something to turn up).
Protective eye wear is obligatory for getting close to some species. An irate sparrow or enraged robin can often give you a nasty peck.
Go on, admit it - you had a job seeing me. It fools the birds and, as a bonus, is great for playing hide and seek with the grandchildren. It has taken them up to four hours to find me. Neither could anyone else, for that matter, and I've missed a few meals because of it.
My first outing with all the gear was less than successful as I could only get a few shots of seagulls. In retrospect, trying out my camouflage on the beach promenade at Sandgate wasn't an inspired idea.
If I could speak seagull, I suspect that this bunch were saying "who is that daft pillock?".

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Where do we go from here?





 
 
Well, the dust is still settling after an election campaign that has produced a result that has confounded politicians and polling experts alike. Me? I was not entirely surprised that it turned out the way it did but it has left me thoroughly depressed and very concerned for the future. Turkeys voting for Xmas is a polite way of expressing my opinion of the Great British Public at the moment. They know not what they have done - or maybe they do and really don't care. That's really scary and if you are one of them, up yours. Anyway, here are some reflections.

Locally, we have lost a good constituency MP, Dan Rogerson, and gained an unknown quantity in the shape of the new Tory MP, Scott Mann. Something high on my personal agenda is to attend one of his constituency surgeries and see where he stands on issues close to my heart. An exercise in 'know thine enemy'. And then, assuming that he is going to toe the party line (and he will, I bet), I will make sure that he gets regular correspondence from me as and when issues arise.

   
   
And what issues might these be? Where do I start? There are so many areas of the Tories policies that I object to. In no particular order of preference, here are just a few to be getting on with:

*  The scrapping of the Human Rights Act and its replacement with a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. And Michael Gove has been appointed Justice Minister to drive this through Parliament.
*  The repeal of the Hunting Act and the possibility of a return to the barbaric practices of animal cruelty outlawed over ten years ago.
*  Continued privatisation of the NHS.
*  The return of the Right to Buy scheme.
*  More draconian cuts to welfare and social care budgets.
*  A move to leave the EU.
*  The introduction of more sinister anti-libertarian surveillance laws.
* Progress with the introduction of TTIP.
* Renewal of Trident.
* Untrammelled fracking.
* Luke warm support of measures to combat global warming.
* Screwing the BBC.
* More anti-trade union legislation.

And on and on and on.....to include every socially regressive, reactionary, punitive and anti-communitarian trick they have up their sleeves for us. Be afraid, be very afraid. And don't believe them when they bleat that all of this is inevitable. It's not. Their austerity measures are totally an ideological choice. The financial crisis is, in part, a very convenient smoke screen for what they always wanted to do.

What else can be done?  I can, and will, share whatever, wherever and whenever I can, views opposing relevant government policies (I'm not ruling out the possibility that I might actually agree with some of their proposals). I can, and will, look out for activist groups that share my views. I can, and will, write letters, sign petitions and generally be a pain in the arse to anyone who proposes something I disagree with. Apart from these things, I will admit that I don't really know what I'll do. But I do know that I'm not going to wring my hands, gnash my teeth and do nothing. A pox on the lot of them.

 

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Some Election Day whimsy

I've been voting since 1966 and I have to say that this election seems to be different to all the others I have known in that division seems to be a much stronger theme than unity. Whether it is the division of Britain from Europe, or Scotland from England, or saints from scroungers: we seem to have become more and more obsessed by the narrowness of politics rather than its ability to be inclusive. Our political idiots think they can win by dividing us and that this is the right thing to do. The sane thing to do is unite. These divisions will come back to haunt us later when separations occur.

So, as we prepare ourselves for our immediate political future I thought it was an opportune time to recall the opening lines of that most narrow and nationalistic of songs, Land Of Hope and Glory.
 
Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
 
But let's not forget that we live in a diverse and culturally rich age, not to mention an age which has the benefit of machine translation. So let us subject those familiar lines to the cultural mincing machine that is Google Translate and see what comes out at the other end. I have translated the English into Welsh, the Welsh into Japanese, the Japanese in Maltese, the Maltese into Chichewa, the Chichewa into Icelandic, the Icelandic into Azerbaijani and finally the Azerbaijani back into English (Yes, I need to get out into the fresh air more). What you finish up with is this:-
 
Hope and glory of the world, women's rights,The people, as we are born, you raise?
 
A much more pleasing sentiment, don't you think? Proof, if ever proof was needed, that diversity beats isolationism any day of the week. And let's hope that sanity wins through as the votes are counted and the victors announced tomorrow.
For those who have an interest in such things, here are the various stages the translation went through:
English
Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
 
Welsh
Land of Hope and Glory, Mam y Free,
Sut y byddwn Dyrchafaf di, sy'n cael eu geni o ti?
 
Japanese
希望と栄光の国、自由の母、
どのように我々はあなたから生まれている人、あなたを賞揚?

Maltese
Tama u glorja tal-pajjiż, il-libertà ta 'l-omm,
Kif in-nies aħna li huma mwielda minn int, extol inti?
 
Chichewa
Chiyembekezo ndi ulemerero wa dziko, ufulu wa amayi,
Monga anthu timabadwa kwa inu, kukweza inu?
 
Icelandic
Vona og dýrð heimsins, réttindi kvenna,
Eins og menn, við erum fædd til þín, hækka þig?
 
Azerbaijani
Ümid və dünyanın şöhrət, qadın hüquqları,
Insanlar, biz sizə anadan kimi, sizə qaldırmaq?

English
Hope and glory of the world, women's rights,The people, as we are born, you raise?

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Has it really come to this?


Tactical voting seems to be on everyone's mind at the moment. We've got Russell Brand recommending a tactical vote for Labour, the Tories recommending one for the Lib Dems to get Nick Clegg back in and many urging those north of the border to vote either SNP or Labour tactically. The fact that so many people, apparently, are considering voting tactically (or, to put it another way, voting for the lesser of two evils) is a stark reminder of everything that is wrong with the electoral system we presently have. It really shouldn't be like this.

I live in a constituency where my choices are quite stark:

* Vote where my natural allegiances are (and there's an extremely hard decision to be made there between Labour and Green, neither of which have a chance of getting anywhere).

* Vote tactically for the Lib Dem with the view of keeping the Tories out. (Now, I’m not one of those people who think that all Tories are evil. I know too many Tories who are decent, 'normal' people and I can make a distinction between the voter and the thing they’re voting for. Life is long but far too short to dislike people but it’s entirely legitimate to dislike a set of ideas. And how I dislike the ideas of the right-wing establishment – their self-interested newspapers, their self-deceiving friends in the City, their socially regressive views, their self-serving business supporters etc).

As I said earlier, it really shouldn't be like this. I, and many like me, should be able to cast my vote in the clear knowledge that it will be count towards a more equitable representation of my views. The first-past-the-post system we have does not allow this. I know this assessment is widely shared: perhaps we'll see the issue moving centre stage after this election?

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Unbelievable?

Is this the worse General Election photo-stunt ever?
What were Ed's strategists thinking of when they signed this rubbish off? Even my 3-day old grandson wouldn't have thought this was a good idea. At this stage of the campaign, it's a stupid thing to do and, judging by the reaction it's caused, I am not alone in thinking this. Nothing positive can come of it and this may be the moment that Labour lost the General Election. I despair.

Friday, 1 May 2015

The dynasty continues...

Alexander Deri Palmer, born 30th April. Grandchild #7. Doing well, as is his mum.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Lapsang Souchong Marzipan Fruit Cake

On a recent visit to Lostwithiel, as it was late in the day and most of our usual haunts were closed, we ventured into Sew and Sew Vintage Haberdashery for some afternoon refreshments. Not as strange as it may sound as there was a small tea shop nestling amongst the fabrics and the skeins of wool. I was tempted by a piece of marzipan fruit cake and I was glad I did. I'm a sucker for marzipan and the cake really hit the spot for me. So much so that I asked the lady serving us if she had the recipe. "No", she said, "but my friend here made it. She'll help". And indeed she did, by pointing me in the direction of Nigella Lawson's book, How to be a Domestic Goddess.

A quick Google when we got home and the recipe was located. It looked good but had a difficult to get ingredient, dried pears (soaked overnight in White Rum). Another Google and I came across a variant, using dried sour dried cherries soaked in Lapsang Souchong tea). I loved the sound of the smokiness of the tea combining with the almonds of the marzipan. But sour dried cherries proved to be as elusive to obtain locally as dried pears: however, I did have dried cranberries to hand. So, I gave it a go and here's the recipe for Lapsang Souchong Marzipan Fruit Cake, adapted by me from the adaption by maisoncupcake.com of the original Marzipan Fruit Cake recipe from Nigella Lawson. It's easy to make and tastes pretty good.
 

Ingredients
500ml Lapsang Souchong tea (strong)
250g Sultanas
125g Dried cranberries
65g Desiccated coconut (unsweetened)
400g Marzipan
65g Ground almonds
Zest of 1 large orange
220g Plain flour
125g Caster sugar
125g Butter (softened)

3 large eggs
2 teaspoons Orange Blossom water


Method
The quantities above were enough for a 2lb loaf tin and a little extra over for a 'taster' in a 1/2lb tin, both lined with grease proof paper.

 1. Cut the marzipan into small cubes and put in a freezer for at least 1 hour. This makes sure that the marzipan stays in chunks during the mixing process.
2. Make a strong brew of lapsang souchong (loose leaf not tea bag!)with boiling water in a jug. Mix the sultanas and cranberries in a large mixing bowl and pour the tea over. Leave to soak for 30-40 minutes (or until the cranberries are soft) and then drain the excess liquid away.

3. Preheat the oven to 140C. 
4. Beat together the almonds, orange zest, flour, butter, sugar and eggs. Add the drained fruit, orange blossom water and cubes of marzipan and mix well by hand, but not too vigorously.
5. Spoon the rather thick cake mix into the tin and spread to the edges. It doesn't rise that much so the tin can be filled pretty much to the top.
6. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 1 hour 45 minutes. I kept an eye on it after 90 minutes and kept checking it was cooked by the old 'cleaning knitting needle' test. I covered the top with foil to prevent burning for the last 10 minutes or so. The smaller 'taster' was done in around an hour.

7. Leave to cool in the tin and then wrap in cling-film until needed.

And here's what the inside of the 'taster' looked like. OK, not symmetrical but I just slapped the mix in the smaller tin when it became apparent that I had some left over. The 'real thing' was destined for a local community 'pop-up cafe'. so we'll be counting bodies tomorrow.

 

Saturday, 25 April 2015

An antidote to power politicians

Last night we held a General Election Hustings in our local community centre (the Old School) to which all the Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) for the North Cornwall Constituency had been invited. The candidates are:

  • Scott Mann - Conservative Party
  • John Whitby - Labour Party
  • Dan Rogerson - Liberal Democrat Party
  • Amanda Pennington - Green Party
  • Julie Lingard - UK Independence Party (UKIP)
  • Jeremy Jefferies - Mebyon Kernow – the party for Cornwall
  • John Allman - Let Every Child Have Both Parents
  • Our chairman for the evening, Nigel, wondering whether anyone is going to turn up.
    General Election rules (and there are many of them) dictate that all PPCs have to be invited to events such as these but they don't have to attend. In the event, we almost had a full set, with only the Mebyon Kernow candidate being a no-show. A pity, as I was particularly interested in hearing what they had to say.

    The format was quite simple:
    *  People submitted questions ahead of the event and the chairman made a selection based on the issues most commonly raised.
    *  The candidates were given 3 minutes for an opening statement.
    *  The chairman, or the individual submitting the question, posed the question and the candidates had the opportunity to answer.
    *  Then questions were open to the audience for comment and further development.

    It really was a successful and enjoyable evening. It was well supported (standing room only), well chaired (started and finished to the minute), wide ranging questions (with the NHS, transport and local control of affairs being the prominent concerns) and a panel of politicos who behaved themselves. Apart from a couple of relatively minor lapses, the questions were answered seriously with no personal point scoring, a complete contrast to what we see on our TVs every night of this campaign.
    Getting ready for the first question.
    A lighter moment.
    It's very easy to be cynical about politicians (and believe me, I know all about cynicism) but it really was refreshing seeing a bunch of hopefuls in action. Although I disagree vehemently with some of their policies, they came across as a group of individuals believing in what they were promoting and, as far as I could tell, with no personal gain in mind. They were the antithesis of the commonly held view of politicians 'only being in it for their own benefit'. If only the same could be said about others of their ilk.

    Thursday, 23 April 2015

    Apparently there's s a General Election coming..............

    And it's a time of platitudes, empty rhetoric, personal smears, fear mongering and playground bickering. Sadly, what's missing seems to be any resemblance of constructive political debate by any of the major parties. My reaction to most of what I hear and read varies from.....

    To.......

    And I guess I am not alone. I may be imagining it but this mind-numbing display puts this one as the worst run up to a General Election that I can remember. For the record, my first taste of voting was in the 1966 General Election when I put my cross against the name of the Labour candidate in the Caerphilly constituency, Onesimus (Ness) Edwards. I have a fair idea of what Ness would have thought about the 'Labour' policies being promoted by Ed Milliband. I also have a fair idea of what he would make of the Tories: he wouldn't be surprised as it's what they've always done and what they always will.

    Tuesday, 21 April 2015

    Orcadian Blog April 2015: Part 2

    A delightful day on the neighbouring island of Rousay. Just a thirty minute crossing and access to archaeology, stunning scenery and wildlife. The internet connection at the B & B is rather temperamental and has difficulty dealing with photographs. So I'm not too sure how this post will turn out but I'll give it a go.
    1. A short eared owl sitting on a fence post at the side of the road. Not something you'd see in many other places in the UK.
    2. Looking across Rousay Sound back onto the mainland island of Orkney. Still water with reflections. 
    3. An eider duck having a munch on a crab.
    4. Another view back the mainland. The clouds look worse than they were. No more than a few spots of rain wearily on in the day but nothing of any consequence after that.
    5. The 3500 year old chambered tomb at Mid Howe. It has 23 burial stalls which were contained within a massive herring-bone stone structure. Uncovered and excavated in the 1930s, it is protected by a barn-like building. Nobody knows who was buries there but the skeletons indicate 'high status', whatever that meant within the context of the times.
    6. A few hundred yards from the tomb lies the broch of Mid Howe, which dates from around 100 AD. It is thought that it originally housed a farming/fishing family and was in use for several hundreds of years.  Over that time, the interior was remodelled and what we see today is essentially a semi, with a stone partition wall separating two 'apartments'. Building material? Just go outside and see the rock stratification on the very nearby shore and you can easily envisage the sandstone being split to fit. In the photograph, you can just make out a stone cubicle. Toilet? Fitted wardrobe? Who knows but it's interesting to speculate.
    7. A very colourful cock strutting his stuff. "Hey, look at me. You know you think I'm gorgeous. That's why you've stopped to take my picture. Don't I look great?"
    8. A rather doleful looking Grey Seal, but then, they always look miserable. Maybe that's something to do with the fact that they a singularly ungainly on land. Perhaps they are all grins and laughs when they are back in the water.
    9. The chambered tomb at Knowe of Yarso. Room for about a dozen bodies in this one. Situated on a flat crest of a hill overlooking Rousay Sound, it was certainly in an impressive position. Yarso, and others of its ilk we saw, was protected by a concrete 'bubble' which had roof lights to illuminate the interior. A great idea and one that worked. 
    10. A lone fishing boat heading back to port across the still waters of Rousay Sound.
    11. A beached boat with a fish-eye effect.
    12. Heading back to the mainland island after a great day. Barely a ripple on the water.














    Orcadian Blog April 2015: Part 1

    Time for what has now become our regular April trip to one of the Scottish Islands. Last year it was the Outer Hebrides and this time we are returning to the Orkney Isles. We were last there around this time in 2012 and enjoyed it so much that we vowed to return. Getting there is easy: fly from Exeter to Edinburgh and then from Edinburgh to Kirkwall. The reverse is a little more convoluted as we hop from Kirkwall to Aberdeen to Manchester to Exeter.

    Our base for our sojourn again will be the excellent B & B run by Audrey Poke out in the countryside to the west of Kirkwall. Comfortable, clean and good food. What else would we want? Tomorrow we head off to one of the other islands, possibly Rousay. 
    The view from our bedroom window. In the distance are the peaks on Hoy.



    Monday, 20 April 2015

    Orcadian Blog April 2015: Part 5

    Our last full day on Orkney, at least for this trip, and what did we do? Passed through Kirkwall on our way to South Ronaldsay, the southernmost of the islands linked via causeways, to visit the Hoxa Tapestry Gallery. Thence to Deerness to the Sheila Fleet jewellery 'factory', finishing up with a 4 mile walk on the cliffs around Mull Head. All in all, another good day, with nary a drop of rain. As ever, a few photographs for illustrative purposes:

    1. Boats and lines in Kirkwall harbour.
    2. The natural anchorage of Scapa Flow was thought, at one time, to be pretty well impregnable. Until, that is, a night during WW1 when a German U-boat slipped in through one of the narrow inlets and sank a warship. After this more attention was paid to security. The photograph shows the remains of a 'block ship' that was sunk in one of the inlets, forming an effective barrier to any large vessel wanting to enter.
    3. At the beginning of WW2 the defences of the inlets were deemed to be inadequate and Churchill had something more substantial built. These 'Churchill barriers', of which there are four, were built of huge amounts of rock and rubble infill, finished off with 5 and 10 ton concrete blocks. The random placement of the 5 ton blocks helps reduce the effect of waves upon the barrier. All the barriers have a 'proper' road going over the top of them and now it is possible to drive all the way to the tip of South Ronaldsay. A little like the Florida Keys really. 
    4. Another rare Orkney bird - this one is the Concrete Footed Owl. It doesn't fly about a lot but when it does, you are advised to duck.
    5. St Margaret's Hope on the shores of Scapa Flow. Another day when the sea was calm. 
    6. A slightly out-of-focus Ringed Plover. Described in one guide I read as a 'stout' bird, this one certainly looks rather rotund. Too much snacking between meals?
    7. During WW2, Italian POWs, captured at Tobruk of all places, were detained in a large camp on Burray Island. They were 'employed' casting the concrete blocks used for the barriers. Their imprisonment wasn't too strict and they were allowed to use two Nissen huts in their camp for a chapel. It is richly painted on the inside and still visited by those detained there, and their descendants. Since our previous visit, in 2012, renovation/conservation has obviously been conducted on the murals and it is now looking much fresher and brighter. An unusual thing to come across.
    8. An obliging Wheatear - which is a corruption of White Rear as this is what you usually see of them as they fly away from you.
    9. Cliffs on our walk around Mull Head. Lots of fulmars nesting with a few gulls and kittiwakes.
    10. More cliffs and in the far distance are some of the other Orcadian Islands. This view is typical of that which accompanied us all the way around Mull Head.
    11. I was pleased to get this shot of a Great Skua, known in the vernacular of the islands as a Bonxie. And, because of its aggressive behaviour and general nastiness towards anything smaller than itself, it is also known the 'pirate of the skies'. It's top of the food chain and will tackle anything lower down. Here's a bit of trivia for word lovers: skua comes from the Faroese word 'skuvur'. And that's the sum total of my Faroese vocabulary and, I suspect, yours as well.
    12. On our 'inward' bound leg of the walk looking west. In the distance can be seen the Covenanters' Memorial at Deerness. Covenanters? Never heard of them? Then I'll enlighten you. Briefly, they were Scottish Presbyterians who objected to the imposition of the Anglican Church on Scotland by the Stuarts. Around 250 of them were being transported in December 1679 to Jamaica, to work as slaves, on the sailing vessel The Crown of London. This got caught up in a storm and was driven onto the rocks where, despite the crew being saved, most of the Covenanters on board were drowned. Being locked below decks by the captain somewhat hampered their ability to escape. The memorial stone was erected in recognition of their plight.
    13. A Greylag Goose which is a goose with pink legs and a red beak. Not to be confused with the rarer Pink Legged Goose which has pink legs and a beak with a red tip. So now you know.
    14. And with the sun setting in the west over Hoy, we say farewell to Orkney, but not for too long as we hope to return in the summer.

    Sunday, 19 April 2015

    Orcadian Blog April 2015: Part 4

    A rather cloudy start to the day and a little colder but it brightened up as the day went on.  A deliberately relatively leisurely day. Most of the day was spent in the port/harbour town of Stromness, where we had a short walk along the shore to some WW2 gun emplacements (where one of our companion's father was stationed in the war). After all that fresh air, we pottered around Stromness, spent some time in the local museum and then visited a chambered tomb and the Ring of Brogdar. Here are a few comments and photographs:
    1. Stromness is situated within the sheltered waters of Scapa Flow and is an important fishing port. This is the lighthouse across the water at one of the entrances to Scapa, the largest natural harbour in the UK and was of enormous strategic importance in both wars.
    2.  A redshank. This one forgot the Redshank Book of Etiquette and came close enough to be photographed.
    3. Lots of red sandstone around here and I found the patterns in the dry stone walls fascinating. I like the contrast of the red of the stone and the green of the lichen. The stone seems naturally pretty friable so, I presume, would be quite easy to work with.
    4. Another view across Scapa, this time towards the Isle of Hoy.
    5. Just one of the colourful small fishing boats in the harbour. I think this one was a crabber.
    6. I don't see Starbucks or Costa going in for this sort of display. More's the pity, say I.
    7. Stromness High Street on a busy Sunday afternoon. Quiet now but in its heyday it was a bustling whaling ship port and the last port of call for many ships crossing the Atlantic to Canada. Busy it wasn't but it had a nice tranquil old fashioned atmosphere. It was refreshing to see a shopping centre, if it can be described as such, completely without the large multiple stores. Of course, I don't have to live there.
    8. Lift up thine eyes and you'll spot the unnoticed - like these Viking inspired gable ends.
    9. Good on Mrs Humphreys for her hospitality. A reminder of the hazards of long voyages without Vitamin C.
    10. From a display in the Stromness museum, something definitely non-PC. Oh, what fun it was working in the hot cotton fields.
    11. The RNLI lifeboat in Stromness harbour. The last one we saw was in St Ives, just exemplifying the cover they give from north to south. GIve generously, folks, the next time someone rattles a RNLI collecting tin in front of you.
    12. An interior shot of Unstan Chambered Stalled Tomb. This is a rectilinear structure with bays separated by upright split stone slabs. The curved end bays also contained shelves. The concrete dome dates from the 1930s and is another example of a very effective style of conservation. 
    13. And finally, the Ring of Brogdar. The largest stone circle in Scotland and one enhanced by its location overlooking Loch Harry to one side and Loch Stenness to the other. It is just one part of the major archaeological site of the Ness of Brogdar. Discovered in 2008, more and more is being revealed each time the site is explored (at present the dig only goes on in the July and August of each year due to lack of funds and the weather) after being uncovered each season. We'll be coming back later on this year to see the archaeologists in action and, hopefully, take a few photographs.