WEEKEND IN WALES

Here is the account of our adventures in Wales this weekend.

As you know last Sunday was Mothering Sunday. This is made a big event in the UK. Every year my boys don’t phone me or send a card and every year I end up crying and feeling very sorry for myself. So this year I decided to short circuit the whole process.

Accordingly, I booked a bed and breakfast stay in Anglesey for Saturday night and in the lovely spring sunshine, we drove down to North wales Saturday morning. Our aim was to head to South Stacks and try to find Chough as they are so local it was either Wales or Cornwall and Wales is closer.

 

Sharing a car with a birdwatcher can be a hazardous Occupation. Every so often the car swerves slightly as another bird is spotted. A form of Tourette’s accompanies these manoeuvres as my companion shouts out random bird names such as Buzzard or Kestrel.

If desperate even common names, such as Magpie or Crow, are shouted. This reminds us that it is an English custom to always greet the first Magpie of the day with the phrase;

Good Morning Mr Magpie

As a child, we never considered this and would have thought it highly silly. However, we had a very good friend Tim Beynon who was a great naturalist and raconteur. He always greeted the first magpie of the day. Now we do it and every time we remember him and all that he taught us and shared with us.

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We found ravens wheeling in the sky over North Wales and arrived at South Stacks about 11 am just in time for a tea break. Another family tradition is that all outings must be accompanied by tea breaks. Ideally, these breaks should be taken in tea shops, cafes or garden centres where tea is served in a teapot with a cup and saucer and a jug of milk but this time our individual flasks had to make do. We found a pair of Chough who kept flying back to the same cleft in the rocks so we assumed that they were nesting there.

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On the sea by the lighthouse were razorbills and guillemots. Herring gulls were lurking looking for any opportunity to steal some easy food. Kittiwakes were also bouncing about on the waves as the sun glinted off the sea.

The sea was a beautiful deep blue colour but where the cliffs were submerged the colour changed to a deep green. It was so clear that even from the top of the cliffs you could see through the water. Butterflies were out and we saw small tortoiseshell, peacock and Red admirals as we sat in the sunshine.

We heard that puffins had been seen and full of enthusiasm we climbed down the hundreds of steps leading to the lighthouse. Despite being completely exhausted we didn’t see a single puffin. We treated ourselves to a light lunch at the café and headed out to an RSPB reserve nearby called The Range. There had been rumours of a hooded crow but we didn’t see it. Skylarks were everywhere as were meadow pipits and we did see a pair of stonechats perched above the heather. As we approached the cliff edge two choughs came over the cliff and flew just above our heads which were amazing. We could appreciate the bright red of their bills and legs.

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A pair of swallows flew in off the sea. Now as the proverb says one swallow does not make a summer but it doesn’t mention the critical number of swallows needed to initiate summer. However, I think that two are not necessarily sufficient to guarantee good weather. I suppose it is even more naive to associate summer and good weather in this climate.

As early evening approached we drove to Holyhead fish quay where we found two black guillemots and strangely a great crested grebe.

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Across the harbour curlews, redshanks and oystercatchers were turning over the seaweed searching for food.

We arrived at the bed and breakfast as the sun set and after a cup of tea, we meandered to the local pub, accompanied by the song thrush in the field. At the pub, we had a lovely home cooked meal. Walking back in the dark we realised how much light pollution there is in the city as the sky was full of stars and despite the fall in temperature we spent a while finding familiar constellations.

 

 

As we prepared for bed we were visited by a tabby cat who took up residence outside our room. If anything could have made the day more perfect it would have been a cat.

Norfolk in February

Having both had the food poisoning a week ago, it took us all week to recover. However, I had booked a weekend in North Norfolk staying in Hunstanton. Again we didn’t set off until after half past seven. We miss you nagging us to get up early and get going.  We had an excellent drive to Norfolk and found ourselves at Titchwell RSPB just after 10 am.

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We had a wonderful walk down to the beach picking up waders right and left.

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Marsh harriers were new to us and most of the common waders. On the sea, we found great northern diver, red-breasted mergansers and both velvet and common scoters. There were hundreds of common scoter and about 70 velvet scoters.

 

Sanderlings, oystercatchers, curlews, and bar-tailed tailed godwits patrolled the edge of the beach. Linnets and other mixed finches flew about the salt marsh. It was a cold day with a stiff breeze but we were well wrapped up and in high spirits. We went to Choseley barns to look for yellowhammers and corn buntings. We found both grey and red-legged partridge and loads of hares dashing around the fields.

We headed to the digs had an early night and woke up refreshed. We had to wait until after 9am for breakfast so we were late to set off.

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We went to Holkham where we found spoonbills, over 200 white-fronted geese, Brent geese and Egyptian geese, great white egret. We found over 20 shore larks on the beach.

 

 

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We walked back to the car with five minutes to spare on the parking and drove to the watch point at the end of Holkham pines where we found a huge flock of pink-footed geese so having seen all the common geese, we headed back to Choseley barns. We were rewarded with a view of a male yellowhammer. So we had a lovely weekend with over 30 new species for the year, some lovely walks and good food and a lovely place to stay. We have found that these short breaks are as good as a small holiday.

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At Titchwell we found some snowdrops and two different species of fungi candle snuff and orange peel fungus.

A Wintry walk on the wild side

Dear Sons,

As this week was half term we decided to travel North to Durham last weekend. As we are lazy it was after 7 o clock in the morning when we set off and arrived at Skinninggrove beach just South of Redcar, where an Eastern Black Redstart had been sighted.

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As we got out of the car the strength of the wind nearly blew us across the car park. The rain was so hard it stung our faces. We had wrapped up so well we resembled a Michelin man and could barely move our limbs. We slowly wobbled our way to the beach. Everywhere there were pied wagtails and numerous Rock pipits. Several small birds kept popping out from behind the rocks and after concentrating on finding one that stayed still long enough we found a male Stonechat. A really handsome bird, once we had seen one stonechat we kept seeing more of them.

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At the side of the beach, a number of small birds fluttered among the rocks. Some kind person had put down bird seed and it was not many minutes before the black redstart took advantage and perched up.

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Dunnocks, robins and pied wagtails competed with the black redstart and yet more stonechats. Here is the big model of a boat.

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In one corner there was a long concrete plinth with this picture on it I thought it was quite amusing. Especially considering one did not even have to breathe in the air merely opening the mouth was sufficient to obtain a lung full.

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Shivering we returned to the car and continued on to the beach at Redcar, where we hoped to find snow buntings. The beach was deserted this could have been due to the cold wind. Visibility was obscured due to the tears springing spontaneously from our eyes.

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Nevertheless, we are tough, so we struggled along the concrete path fighting the wind until we found several snow buntings crouching amongst the pebbles on the beach along with a few turnstones.

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Having been blown back towards the car we found a small cafe and stopped for lunch at Northern prices so very reasonable. We took the decision to see if we could get red and black grouse. After all on a day full of driving rain and fierce winds, where would one chose to be but on the Durham moors? We drove for about an hour and finally started to climb up the steep road towards the moors.  As the road grew steeper the rain turned to sleet and then to snow although it was not so heavy.

 

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We drove along the road at a magnificent 20 miles and hour. We passed only two other vehicles daft enough to be out in that weather. As we drove along we found lots of red grouse among the roadside. We saw a couple of female black grouse. The snow grew heavier and the visibility was decreasing and with the road becoming treacherous we decided to head back off the moor. As we were coming off the moor we were treated to the sight of a male black grouse standing framed on a farm gate. We stopped to see if there were any dippers but they had all gone elsewhere and I for one do not blame them.

Saturday evening I was very ill with food poisoning I think so Sunday we got up slowly and Drove to Hartlepool Headland. I pottered along the front. The wind had increased overnight. Again tears sprang to my eyes. The wind had whipped the sea into lots of foam and this blew over the sea walls coating everything with foam so that the edge of the water appeared as if it had been coated with fairy liquid.

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We found some eider on the sea and a shag flew past. Finally, we found some purple sandpipers cowering amongst the seaweed and rock pipits hid in the rocks. We found a curlew or two and some redshanks and yet more turnstones.

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In the fish quay, red-breasted mergansers swam about and a red-throated diver fished.

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We saw at least two seals who come up to take a look at us. I couldn’t stop shivering so we cut the time short and went to Saltholme RSPB. I was too ill to walk around the reserve but we did see some lovely wigeon, teal and shoveler from the main hide. They have a huge population of tree sparrows and numbers of goldfinches and greenfinches. As we drove away we found a large flock of Barnacle geese grazing in a field and a massive flock of golden plovers on the marsh.

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I am sure there were more species that we missed but I was just too ill to enjoy it so we came home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lovers of Amhurst, Someone from a distance, A cat, a hat and a piece of string

Well with a huge pile of books beside my bed I have been attempting to read them before they are due back at the library. The only problem is, that as I return them to the library, I find other books to take their place.

The Lovers of Amhurst

As I returned “The Lovers of Amhurst” a story about the adulterous relationship between the brother of Emily Dickenson and the wife of a college professor, allegedly based on truth. The book takes the side of the lovers and is very unkind towards the wife and children who are hurt by the affair. The great nature of their love is supposed to excuse the deceit and unkindness towards his family. I have to say I was not convinced and I found the descriptions of their ‘spiritual’ connection uncomfortable. I once had a friend who disapproved of divorce and was very vehement on the subject, until she fell for a divorced man, upon which, she spent her time finding arguments in favour of divorce. I am not commenting on divorce, but the practice that people have, of finding arguments to excuse their behaviour once they are emotionally involved, whether they previously espoused these ideas or not.

So it was while returning this somewhat disappointing novel, I found a Joanne Harris book of short stories A Cat A Hat And A Piece Of String, naturally who could resist a title like that and the book duly came home with me.  The next book due back was published by Persephone Books a publisher recommended by Dovegreyreaderscribbles who is currently working her way through this publisher’s books.

Someone At A Distance

The book is a fairly thick tome by Dorothy Whipple and concerns an old lady who is feeling neglected (despite having plenty of money, a comfortable house and a loving family) she feels unappreciated, so she hires a French companion/maid. The maid has just had a disastrous relationship and been dumped and she is out to get as much for herself as possible. Anyway, the old woman leaves a lot of money to this companion when she dies and the girl arrives to collect her money after probate. While she is waiting, she stays with the family of the old lady where she seduces the son and wrecks the family. I found the book hard going I liked the wife she was straightforward, very hardworking and loved her family. The husband was selfish and failed to notice how much his wife did to make a lovely home for them all. He was also weak failing to take responsibility for his actions.

The temptress is jealous, shallow, unkind and just plain nasty. She doesn’t even care for the husband and she makes everyone miserable. She manages to hurt everyone she comes into contact with. I have rarely met anyone so petty and shallow, mean and nasty in fiction. I nearly threw the book across the room in frustration at one stage something I am not in the habit of doing. The uplifting factor for me is the recovery of the wife once her marriage has broken down and she has lost her house. She finds a job and somewhere to live her children rally around and she is better cared for then when her supposedly devoted husband was there.

A Cat A Hat And A Piece Of String

From this turgid and overwrought plot, I turned to the short stories of Joanne Harris she of “Chocolat” fame. It was as lovely as a warm bath and fresh sheets on a cold night.

The story of the woman who falls in love with a tree was delightful. The story of the greasy spoon cafe at the railway station run by the muses was inspirational. They were parables, modern fairy tales and I lapped them up seeing layers of meaning in each small gem.

They are like a series of delicious starters filling and wholesome perfect in their way. Perhaps reading them all at once could induce a form of reading indigestion in the same way that reading a number of Father Brown stories can also be too much at any one time but interspersed with the self seeking Madamoiselle Larnier the world was not such a bleak place in these stories. Next time I have to read The Priory  wish me luck….

Sea ducks in the centre of the country

Sunday Morning dawned clear and cold with a surprisingly light breeze. We drove up to Stoke Bardolph in the bright winter sunshine. Turning beside the sewage works we drove towards the village and finally found ourselves beside the river. In the bright light, everything appeared more vivid than usual and the whole scene had the air of a dream or a story with the slow winding river, the fringes of trees and the fields on either side. Among these trees were nearly a hundred fieldfares and redwings feeding on the fields.

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On the left-hand side of the river, a wind turbine was visible high above the hedges and fields.

I have always found these beautiful, especially when compared to electricity pylons and this one was turning steadily. The power lines hummed and crackled as we walked beneath them. On the river, to our right-hand side, a flotilla of tufted ducks drifted in the current. It took only a moment before we picked out the female scaup with the huge white blaze above the bill the lack of the crest and the greater size.

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A photographer attempting to get a closer shot drove the flock across the river but they gradually returned. In the meantime, a flash of yellow flew across the path and I cursed having missed a possible gray wagtail. A few minutes later the gray wagtail appeared beside the outflow balancing on a railing and showing itself to great advantage.

Image is courtesy of the wildlife trusts many thanks

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I obtained excellent views and was looking forward to investigation the swans I could see further down the river, but as we stood there the mist came down and the whole scene was engulfed, the view obliterated and even the turbine was obscured. What could we do but drive home? We found a whole flock of geese further along the road and stopped to photograph them and search for any rarer species. On the way home, we decided to call at Long Eaton Meadows to look for this common scoter reputed to be present on the gravel pits. It was damp and dull by the time we arrived and parked on a sodden and muddy lane. We both searched for a few minutes over a cold lake, with a piercing wind blowing directly at us before we found the common scoter. Image is courtesy of Nottinghamshire Birdwatchers Many thanks

Image is courtesy of Nottinghamshire Birdwatchers Many thanks

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Again we had an excellent view as it dived and swam about. Usually, these ducks are obscured by the waves and breakers, but on a flat gravel pit it presented an excellent view and we were able to fully appreciate the plumage for possibly the first time. We watched the bird for some twenty minutes until the rain commenced in earnest and sleet particles began to trickle down our necks. Still, three new species were seen and excellent views of all three obtained.

Once again hope you enjoyed hearing about our adventures. Kind regards Mum

A Foretaste of Spring

This morning we made a supreme effort and managed to drag our weary bodies out of bed early. After a brief breakfast, we headed off to Rufford Abbey and country park.

 

All week there have been up to ten hawfinches in the trees surrounding the car park and we wanted to see these birds. We crossed the city in record time and found ourselves getting out of the car less than 45 minutes after we had set out. Following the know of birdwatchers in the car park gave us directions to nine hawfinches obligingly perched high in a tree.

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They remained in full view for approximately 15 minutes. It was the best view of hawfinches I have ever had. Around us, blue tits great tits nuthatches and chaffinches all sang at the top of their voices. We had limited time due to an appointment at 11am so we headed for the lake. 

Although the weather was cold four degrees it was bright and sunny and we found our first snowdrops in flower. You may not be able to feel spring is around the corner. You may not be able to see it but these small signs are the foretastes and promises of the spring and they always make me happy.

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Hazel trees were full of catkins and we saw wild arum just poking above the soil. Great tits, robins, and blackbirds have been shouting all week about how sexy they are and proclaiming territory. Indeed earlier this week a blackbird was still singing well after dark just near the library

Our diligence was rewarded with four goosanders two males and two females on the lake. Some species of birds were obviously accustomed to being fed regularly by visitors. A crowd of robins followed us hopefully whilst blue tits and great tits hovered nearby. At a bridge, we were treated to sights of a coal tit a few feet away from us great tits and blue tits were everywhere as were dunnocks robins and an occasional wren. A goldcrest hovered at the edge of a yew completely oblivious to our presence.

 

 

Our pleasure was increased by a flock of approximately fifty siskins who flew into the trees at the edge of the lake. One of two of us were sure there was redpoll amongst them but your father refuses to be convinced. None of those I saw had the red forehead but they did have the streaky pattern and buff wing bars of immature redpolls. 

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We headed back to the car seeing treecreeper, nuthatch and two great spotted woodpeckers on the way. We missed the brief flash of a kingfisher as it shot past. However, despite this disappointment, we saw three new species for the year Hawfinch, siskin and treecreeper. The drive home took twice as long as the early morning drive. For a short trip, we picked up four new species for the year, had wonderful views and had a lovely walk in the sunshine. A really lovely morning. As you can see the close-up shots of birds courtesy of Nottinghamshire birdwatchers are far superior to anything our camera can achieve. Hope everything is going well.

Love Mum 

 

The Big Garden Bird Watch

This morning we carried out the big garden bird watch. Well more accurately your father carried out the bird watch whilst I enjoyed edited highlights.

(I have had my paper accepted for publication. The proofs came through on Thursday and had to be returned within three days. Consequently I spent this morning carefully checking the text and figures for errors and we posted the corrections back before midday.)

As you know we have been putting out mixed seed, fat balls, Niger seed, meal worms and sometimes fruit. We lay this on the ground as well as on the feeders. This has encouraged both more species to visit the garden in addition to greater numbers of each species. The ground feeding birds have particularly enjoyed our generosity.

Six wood pigeons have taken up residence around the garden waiting for free hand outs.

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Whilst a pair of collared doves fed on the seed feeders balancing precariously on the platform.

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As a result of all the free food on the path we had five blackbirds in the garden at once. The territorial rules have apparently been suspended  in the quest for food. A flock of nine goldfinches landed on the feeders and proceeded to feed. Over the course of the hour there was not a moment when there were not goldfinches on the Niger seed. However, since the dramatic decline in the numbers of Greenfinches  a few years ago, we rarely see these birds in the garden.

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The chaffinches are prospering and we had seven of these on the seeds. They appear to prefer to feed on the ground, and, since we have spread seed on the path, the numbers of these birds has increased.

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Likewise the pair of Dunnocks and the house sparrows have taken to visiting the garden daily.

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The fat balls were host to a pair of blue tits and a pair of great tits. These birds also search the current bushes and roses looking for invertebrates to scoff. A wren was searching these bushes this morning. A magpie watched from the damson tree at the bottom of the garden.

A few days ago a coal tit was seen on the currant bushes, today it was on the apple tree. We have also seen the odd Goldcrest on the bushes.

Unfortunately the over-wintering male Blackcap did not visit during the alloted hour.

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With so many of these birds in pairs I suspect that various species are already pairing up ready for the breeding season.  So one hour 12 species and good numbers of most of them. The only usual ones absent this morning were the robin, the goldcrest, the coal tit and the blackcap.

Most of the photos are from either the wikipedia website or the RSPB  and many thanks for these.

Tundra Bean goose and Whooper Swans

Dear Lads,

Well it is almost the end of the month and a twelfth of the year has nearly passed. I have not lost any of the extra kilos I gained over Christmas, the house is no tidier and I am struggling to keep up with everything ( i.e. the swimming, the reading, the languages, the housework as well as work and trying to slim).

Anyway we are healthy and not too badly off which is much better then many people in this world. Accordingly we decided after a morning of chores to head out to look for Whooper swans at Thumpton just off the A453 near the power station. We had distant views at first but having negotiated the back roads we found a whole flock of geese and swans in a field near Thrumpton.

There were four whooper swans  among over 23 Egyptian geese, approximately 35 mute swans Some were hiding in hollows a few Greylag geese and a few Canada geese.

Thank you to Clifton grove birds for this photo again  the birds were too distant to obtain a good clear image

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We were very pleased when amongst them but out on its own we found a tundra Bean goose. a very obliging bird that gave us excellent views as we noted all its salient features.

Thanks to Sean Browne for this photograph it was too far away for us to photograph

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Encouraged by our success we decided to Head for Attenborough where a starling murmuration had been reported. Unfortunately this is where our luck ran out as we exited the car the rain hurled down and we got soaked so no murmuration for us. The result of all this rain was that the car park cleared faster than usual the only busy place was the cafe where families sought to dry out and warm up with drinks and food. We had a very cheeky Egyptian goose approach us just above the sign advertising bird food. You can see how wet it was.

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At the bottom of the ramp a pair of mandarin ducks were loitering in the hope of obtaining food. There were no rings on their legs nor were their wings clipped so I concluded that these were part of the increasing feral population of these ducks. Whilst we have seen female Mandarins here before we had never seen a male. As he was obviously strutting about to attract the female I wondered if this was why he had turned up at this location.

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Before the telescopes and binoculars were full of water we decided to abandon the starling flock and return home.

We hope you are both well and happy. We had a very enjoyable weekend last weekend and we are eagerly anticipating another visit sometime. Please can you let me know dates when you will be free around Easter so we can plan a trip to see you.

Lots of love

Your mother

 

 

A walk on the cold side

Hi

As you aware this week was my birthday. I had planned for us to go away for the weekend do a couple of walks enjoy a pub meal and visit the odd tea shop and potter home in tie for an early night before work on Monday. However when the weather reports forecast high tides, snow and gales and people on the coast started to be evacuated I reconsidered.

Despite the worst predictions of the weather forecasters today started off dry if rather cloudy. We decided to use the time to catch up on a bit of bird watching so we drove to Nottingham looking for waxwings. These rather endearing birds arrive in the UK from Scandinavia every few years when their numbers rise. They spend the winters here feeding on berries alongside the redwings, fieldfares thrushes and blackbirds. These four had chosen to Station themselves alongside a busy road in the suburb of Carrington in Nottingham where a row of trees full of berries were just ready to be eaten. They really were this clear

(Your father didn’t take his camera so this is one from LentonCliftongrove Birds – official website Cliftongrove Birds – official website534 × 640Search by image

Waxwing – Lenton)

 

waxwing2aWe also found a number of redwings enjoying the berries not to mention blackbirds and a mistle thrush.

(You can see the author of the image in the top)

redwingWe became a bit cold and decided to drive to Eyebrook Reservoir. We parked at the edge of the reservoir and found at least three male smew with attendant females.

Smew – Mergus albellus | NatureSpot NatureSpot773 × 563Search by image

Mergus albellus – Chris Lythall – Eyebrook Reservoir

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canstock13875012There was a shoot over the far side of the reservoir but we did manage to find a kingfisher at the dam . It was an excellent sighting of a male as it didn’t move for quite a few minutes. I also saw a great spotted woodpecker unfortunately it flew off before I could share it.

(owls about that then!: November 2015 Owl’s about that then!700 × 626Search by image

Kingfisher No 2)

kingfisherThe little owl was sitting in the sunshine against the tree but on the side out of the wind.  For once it looked more sleepy than grumpy.

(Rod’s Birding: A afternoon’s birding in Leicestershire and Rutland …Rod’s Birding800 × 450Search by image)

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We had a lovely few of fields of fieldfare and redwings.  Before we headed to Rutland Water. We were welcomed to the car park by the sight of a red Kite soaring above our heads.

Rod’s Birding: A day’s birding at Rutland Water, Rutland …Rod’s Birding800 × 450Search by image

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We found goosander on the main lagoon but instead of walking round we headed off to the North arm to see if we could find the black necked and slavonian grebes that have been about.

As we parked the car we found this bird in the edge of a lagoon along with grey heron and little egret just for comparison.

David Gray on Twitter: “One of the Great White Egrets on Lagoon 3 …Twitter1200 × 900Search by image

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We found both the slavonian grebe and black necked grebe 2 of each.

Slavonian Grebe – Podiceps auritus | NatureSpotNatureSpot1024 × 720Search by image

Podiceps auritus – Steve Mathers –

We heard that there was a red necked grebe on the Hamilton peninsula so we ended our day with seeing this bird.

Moysie’s Birding Blogmoysiesbirdtrips.blogspot.com400 × 296Search by image

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We found quite a few canny red legged partridge that had escaped the slaughter.  All in all we saw sixteeen new species had a lovely day out and were home before it got too dark

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Thank you to everyone whose images I have used to illustrate this narrative.

 

Books I read over the Christmas holidays

As I mentioned in an earlier post my Christmas holidays included the following activities

A walk every day

We managed a walk most days but with our visitor in his eightieth year the walks were sometimes quite short ones.  However we did get to connect with the natural environment every day.

Lots of board games

We played scrabble, whist, dominoes, rummikub, trionimos, charades, settlers of Catan, zombicide and plague (a brand new game). The last three were my son’s games.  I approached them as a duty, but found all three really good fun and would recommend them to anyone not put off by the titles. I bought a set of pick up sticks for a few pounds, as a stocking filler and these proved to be very popular. We also tried charades but the three of us understand each other so well there is not much mystery. I also bought some wooden puzzles that kept us occupied on Christmas morning.

Reading a long list of books

I have read a blog (Dovegreyreader Scribbles if you are interested) recommending Robert Macfarlane’s Book ‘Landscapes’ and had bought a copy. After the first sentence I was hooked and ordered all the other books by this author I could find from the library.

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My favourite book so far by this author is ‘The Old Ways’ where he explores ancient ways on foot looking at the landscape, natural history, archaeology, and history. I was completely mesmerised by the language, and the mental images they engendered.

 

The smallest book by Robert Macfarlane is ‘Holloway’ an exploration of the hollow lanes of South Dorset. Written in memory of Roger Deakin another great writer of natural history, it had all the beauty of lyrical poetry. The artwork was stunningly beautiful. Of all these books it is the one I would most like to own. I still have ‘Mountains of the Mind’ and ‘Wild Places’ to read. I also need to order ‘Underland’ an exploration of the world beneath our feet. I cannot express how much pleasure these books have given me my mind traveled to all these wonderful places and I could picture them so clearly thanks to the excellent writing.

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Dovegrey reader scribbles also recommended a publisher porsephone books. Accordingly I searched the library catalogue for books from this publisher and came across ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ by Winifred Watson. This proved to be a real Cinderella story set in the 1930s. Some of the scenes resembled a French Farce but it was charming and light. I loved seeing this very moral and repressed spinster gradually softening and becoming more human.  Who could not like a frothy book for the winter when outside the rain is lashing the windows and the wind is howling.

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From the same publisher came Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd. An elderly spinster is rescued from a desert island where she has been marooned for four years and arrives home in the middle of the second world war. Her struggles to re adjust are both funny and poignant. I enjoyed it thoroughly. The end papers are truly lovely.

‘Saplings’ By Noel Streatfeild was also on the list. Most famous for the childrens’ novel ‘Ballet Shoes’, this novel examines the effect of the disturbance and uncertainty of the second would war on the lives of children. More specifically the children of a seemingly perfect middle class family. It was rather long but very moving. The trouble is it is hard to get too emotional about the trauma of a perfectly nice middle class family, when at that time people including children were literally starving and being murdered. Despite this it was thought provoking.

I read ‘The Miniaturist’ by Jessie Burton. This was gripping and as a thriller quite a page turner.It is beautifully written and the denouement is quite a condemnation of the Calvinistic attitude prevalent in Amsterdam at the time. At this time a similar intolerance is present in the world and the parallels were quite startling. It has the distinction of making me cry something very few novels manage to do these days.

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I also read ‘Various Pets Alive and Dead’ by Marina Lewycka. her first novel “A Short History on Tractors in Ukrainian” was a fantastic book. I had forgotten so much of my childhood and that book brought it all back from the pet words, to the mind set of the father and the attitude of Ukrainian women of that era. the clash between Ukrainians now and then is sympathetically protrayed. Her next two books I found disappointing. However in this latest novel the clash of attitudes and lifestyles is again explored and her voice is back as clear as ever. This novel is the story of a group of adult children, of a couple of hippies. Having grown up in a sort of commune in the 1970’s, the adult children rebel or reinvent themselves or try to move on. Their troubles and conflicts were both funny and sad. I couldn’t put the book down and finished it in a day. So what a wonderful fortnight of reading.

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Swimming wherever possible. I managed this on several occasions revelling in being nearly the only person in the pool. Despite the cool temperature of the water I find the joy of swimming and having the time to meditate at the same time delightful. Some people sit to meditate others run, however I swim and as I pace the lengths of the pool I reflect on my day, my life and any problems I have. I clamber out tired but refreshed.

Good meals

I cooked any number of roast dinners and desserts, not to mention all the bottles of wine we drank. All were eaten by my family and friends. As always, it took hours to cook everything and a matter of minutes for them to be devoured. Still we didn’t eat too much rubbish food, as a result we are facing the new year feeling a lot healthier than we usually do.

Playing some music every day I managed 2 days when I played so an abject failure there. I did manage to play a Haydn sonata this afternoon. I bought myself a book of Haydn piano sonatas as a treat and have just commenced playing the easiest ones.

So this was my Christmas and New Year. New Years day was rounded off by the first of the new season of Sherlock. Pure escapism but very enjoyable all the same. I hope that you have all had an equally pleasant Christmas Holiday and I wish you all a very happy New Year

 

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