2020 The year the world stood still

Where do I begin with a world that has changed so much over the past twelve months and yet has remained essentially the same. If I had been told in December last year what this year would have been I would not have believed it.

January 2020 Derbyshire

I was working very hard and playing quite hard I was going out meeting friends. I was involved on lots of different projects and had many different interests. Whilst I have never been someone who went to parties or spent time drinking I was socialising usually whilst learning or cultivating a hobby.

In February the news from China became quite serious and with the influx of people carrying the virus and the cases of virus infection on cruise ships. People were dying of this infection and we were all worried.

By the time March had arrived the media were stoking the frenzy and magnifying all the risks and we were voluntarily withdrawing from going out and meeting people. On the 20th March we were worrying about keeping working because whilst we needed the money we would like to be alive or what is the point.

Auricula flowers early spring 2020

on the 23rd March everything stopped. My husband started to work from home. Setting up on the kitchen table with his laptop. The schools closed except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. All teaching went on line. All non essential shops shut.

I was in limbo I felt guilty for not being at work especially as I was still getting paid but whenever I broached the subject I was told to stay at home. I started gardening. Digging the allotment enabled me to have some fresh air and exercise and to keeep away from everyone

With no human interaction except with my husband when he wasn’t working every passer by and brief hello took on a new significance

I gave away rhubarb and kale and broccoli and lettuces, gooseberries and beans. I spoke to elderly people and neighbours and people with young children. I was so unused to being by myself for long periods of time.

Climbing French beans from the allotment

Making Pasta sauce in bulk from the allotment produce

As the weather improved I made lunches outdoors in the garden and persuaded my husband to join me for a glass of wine every lunch. We agreed this was a lot better than a sandwich snatched at our desks. we rejoiced in the luxury of getting up at 7am or even 7:30 instead of 6am.

My favourite rose blooming in the garden at home

We made rainbows and hung them in our windows. We clapped on the doorstep every Thursday for the NHS

Minature rainbow quilt Spring 2020

I found I didn’t need much to make me happy. We saved money with no fuel costs much smaller food shopping as the shops were much emptier especially when people were panic buying.

I discovered a new interest in you tube and watched many videos on living a simpler life. I did some DIY and some weaving. For the first time in years I lost my tired look and the dark circles under my eyes.

Hand knitted sweater
Close up of handwoven throw for the sofa plain weave

Then some of my friends got together on zoom and I learned a new skill of using zoom. We stayed in every night and I began to play the piano again and knit. I read the books that had been piling up from presents.

One Saturday I went to the small bakery in Nottingham and came home with a sour dough starter culture. It is called Sam and lives in our kitchen I feed him every day and he makes all our bread. Strangely having got used to sourdough bread supermarket bread tastes insipid….

First hand made sourdough bread loaf

In summer the rules were relaxed and we managed a week’s holiday in Scotland.

We stayed in an guesthouse in the Cairngorms. We walked and laughed and ate lovely food and did some shopping and watched birds.

We ate cake and drank coffee. We laughed and read and every day We learned a little more Italian or practised what we had learned.

By September we were back the schools had returned and we were working again. We were not working as hard because we were not teaching in the same way. We learned to cope with bubbles and contact and trace systems. All our meetings became virtual ones and still my husband worked from home. In October I did something called BRITSPIN a number of days spent spinning and meeting challenges.

Single from fleece spun on an Ashford traditional wheel

A second lockdown we worked we did chores we phoned our family and played pub quizzes over Zoom with the family. I carried on playing the piano religiously doing my scales and arpeggios and practising pieces. We carried on learning Italian

Blackcurrants from the allotment we made 18 lbs of blackcurrant jam

We hadn’t seen our sons for months nor parents, uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces. The weather was getting colder and wetter, the nights were getting longer and it was really rather miserable. We put up Christmas decorations and lights to brighten up the gloom. We cooked warm dishes and made hot drinks to keep out spirits up. We snuggled under quilts to keep warm. Sometimes when we were feeling miserable we stayed in bed until 10 am at the weekend reading and phoning the family drinking tea and cuddling up.

We went for walks when it was dry telling ourselves we needed the exercise and the connection with nature. Everywhere was busy full of other families going for walks to keep themselves busy and healthy. With no other source of amusement we have become a nation of walkers, runners and cyclists.

The path over the hill at the back of the house

So here we are at Christmas I have missed my family so much. We have managed to see one son and his girlfriend. I have found this year very difficult. We have lost people who should still be here. Many people have lost their livelihoods and it touches us all. Our lives are completely disrupted and it looks as if this will continue into the new year.

I have missed listening to live music no concerts or plays. I feel deprived of anything worthy, as if I have been excluded from anything uplifting.

Today is Christmas day 2020. We had prepared a lovely meal and were expecting guests (family). I had cleaned and tidied the house in readiness. their car broke down we spent Christmas day with them waiting for the AA to come and rescue us. Despite this we did at least see them. We did exchange gifts and we did have hot soup and rolls to eat. Not quite the full roast dinner I had planned but it is certainly a Christmas we will remember.

Despite the difficulties of the year I think we have learned a number of things

We do not need much to make us happy.

We are more resilient than we thought we were

Family and people are more important than things or money

The worth of a person does not consist in the abundance of their possessions nor how attractive they are or how trendy they are.

When things are bad people show immense kindness to others

Making things yourself and doing things for yourself is very rewarding and empowering

We have survived and whilst many people may be poorer and some have been very ill we are all still here. If you are suffering my heart goes out to you. It has been a truly heart-breaking year for many people. For all of you I raise a festive glass and wish you all a happy new year and hope that 2021 is better than this year.

Merry Christmas everybody.

Scotland Bridge of Grudie August 2020

Monitoring nutrient levels in gravel pits

So here we are a showery weekend in July and we have a batch of water sampling kits to monitor nutrient levels in freshwater habitats locally. We started this project some time ago and this is our second batch of water sampling kits.

The technique is fairly simple, each tube is secured with a small green tab, this, when removed, leaves a hole. The air is squeezed out of the tube, which is then inserted in a sample of the water. Once the water has been sucked into the tube, the contents are shaken and the colour change develops over 3 minutes for nitrates and five minutes for phosphates. The colour produced corresponds to a range of nitrates or phosphates in the water. A GPS location for the water body and a photograph of each area sampled and the process is complete

We decided this weekend was time to sample the gravel pits at Attenborough Nature reserve so we set off to collect some samples and get some results.

First was the sailing pit away from the River Trant and deep we failed to see much algal growth and we were hopeful levels of nutrient would be low. However, nitrate levels were higher than we had expected at 2.5 ppm whilst phosphate levels were much lower at 0.02-0.05ppm ( parts per million).

SAILING PITIMG_5738We then headed towards the main centre and church pond. This pond is away from the river and therefore less likely to have nitrate runoff from farmland.  Indeed here the nitrate levels were less than 0.2ppm and the phosphate levels were less than 0.02ppm making this pond very beneficial to q=aquatic insects that fail to thrive in water bodies with higher nutrient levels. We then met some fellow scientists who informed us that this pond is groundwater fed and consequently does not receive water from sewage overflow or from the river.

CHURCH PONDIMG_5740Tween pond is opposite the church pond and we sampled that pond next. A young Canada goose with a broken wing and damaged foot was struggling in the shallows. We reported it rather than let it suffer. Nitrate levels were much higher here at 2.5ppm whereas phosphate levels were still low at less than 0.02ppm. We did notice some algae around the edges and a number of ducks and swans were on the water. We suspected that the algae had removed nitrates from the water in order to grow. However, Tween pond is nearer the River Trent and could be receiving excessive water from the Trent following heavy rain. We were disturbed with a Southern Hawker that came to investigate us.



At the corner, there is a smaller pond that leads to a ditch beside the path. This pond is next to the house called Ireton House. One of Oliver Cromwell’s generals was Ireton. Here there is a multitude of ducks, some wild and some definitely domesticated. We thought the nutrient levels would be high in this pond from all the duck faeces.We were wrong the nitrate levels were less than 0.2ppm whilst the phosphate levels were higher at 0.2-0.5ppm. Possible the algae we found could have taken up surplus nitrates from their growth. A common blue damselfly was perched up and further examination revealed a blue tailed damselfly nearby.




Main pond nitrates were the same as the sailing pit 2-5ppm and phosphate levels were also higher at 0.2-0.5ppm. Main pond is huge but it connects with the river through a sluice so excess river water can be channelled away to prevent flooding.


IMG_5742More common blue damselflies and blue tailed damselflies were perched up and several different bee species were busy.  These included Bombus pascorum the common carder, Bombus hypnorum the tree bumblebee and Apis mellifera the honey bee.

We headed down towards Clifton pit the pit with the two hides beside the banks. The nitrate level was less than 0.2ppm whilst the phosphate level was 0.05-1ppm. The lake is very deep and despite the number of birds who make their home on it, they are not significantly increasing the nitrate level in the water. We had been told that this lake was also ground water fed.


IMG_5743Finally, we drove to the railway crossing on Meadow Lane to take samples from Beeston pond We had been warned that the nutrient levels were likely to be very high here due to an overflow sewage outlet nearby. However, nitrate levels were less than 0.2 and phosphate levels were 0.05-0.1 so we were pleasantly surprised. We watched a warbler making its way through the reeds for a few minutes before returning home to input the data.




Here is the map of the site Map – Attenborough Nature Reserve (1)


Clean water for wildlife

I am a bit of a numpty and so I have agreed to undertake various “Challenges” this month. My first challenge was to sign up to walk 10,000 steps every day in June to raise money for cancer research. I then decided that I should do some more swimming and signed up to swim half a marathon in seven weeks. This was still not enough so I decide to do the challenge that I am really enjoying which is to do something wild every day during June.

During the winter we attended a meeting of the British Dragonfly Society and heard a talk by a representative of the group http://freshwaterhabitats.org.uk. This organisation are undertaking a project to map the nitrate and phosphate levels on freshwater bodies across the UK. These freshwater habitats include streams, ponds, lakes, canals and rivers. So we have been around the area in which we live and testing the water for nitrates and phosphates. These are the primary nutrient chemicals within freshwater habitats.

Results 2017 fresh water testing

We visited ten sites and took photos of each site. Despite being there just for the testing we found four spotted chaser dragonflies, a black-tailed skimmer as well as both blue tailed damselfly, common blue damselfly as well as speckled wood butterfly, female orange tip and small tortoiseshell. So a little sunshine and lots of insects were out. At Attenborough, we were treated to whitethroat, blackcap and Cettis Warbler in addition to watching a reed warbler for several minutes.

This is Long Eaton gravel pit. It is no longer linked to the river and other ponds. This is reflected in the low nutrient levels found in the water.

The next site today was Forbes Hole Long Eaton an old borrow pit from the 1830s used to obtain gravel for the railway adjacent to the site. This is a more mature site and where the fantastic dragonflies were all out in the sunshine.

We then headed for Attenborough Nature Reserve and took samples from the River and Conneries Pond. The river had high nutrient levels of both Nitrates and Phosphates.

It was very windy and the water was choppy again algae were present of the surface of the water and the nitrate and phosphate levels were high.

The path at Attenborough was mush higher than the river, this presented problems in scrambling down the bank to obtain the water sample.

Yesterday we visited Wollaton lake, which was also high in phosphates but lower in nitrates than the algae on the surface of the lake would indicate.

Wollaton lake is fed by a culvert from Martin’s Pond a much smaller pond. Both nitrate and phosphate levels were high.



The river Erewash passes sewage treatment works and consequently, the levels of nutrients would be supposed to be high. Indeed these were the highest levels we recorded. The Erewash Canal was similarly high in nitrate levels, but not phosphate levels.

The small plastic tubes containing the reagents start colourless and change colour as the reaction develops after a few minutes the colour is used to determine the concentration of nitrates and phosphates. The levels of nitrates were generally higher than the levels of phosphates. So this is my Go Wild for this weekendIMG_5112

Lady Audley’s Secret


 The book is available for free at project Gutenberg



I used to love Victorian literature but I gradually began to find it tiresome. The descriptions were too lengthy, the characters stereotypical and the plots sentimental. They were like the forerunner of those American films where everything is so wholesome and things always turn out well in the end. Now don’t get me wrong I like a happy ending and I enjoy reading descriptive passages but the long-winded passages where the scenery prefigures a plot doesn’t do it for me.

However, despite skipping a few of the more long winded descriptions this was a good book. Not only did it keep my interest but it is very subversive. Basically, a woman gets married has a baby her husband loses/spends all his money they have a row he runs off to sea. After three years of no communication with his wife, he comes back having made lots of money to hear from his father-in-law that his wife has just died. He is not surprised about this, after all without his presence what would any woman do but pine and deteriorate. However, he meets up with his friend when he is the depths of despair, his friend takes him to his family home where his uncle lives with his latest wife. This latest wife is the same woman the man had married he isn’t too happy that she hasn’t waited for him pining in abject poverty but found herself a wealthy husband. They row and she pushes him down the well. She thinks she has killed him. His friend takes it upon himself to find out what has happened to his friend and the whole detective piecing together of clues is started as the story starts to unravel and she becomes more desperate.

Project Gutenberg link to the book


I liked the subversion of the domestic angel of the health and home transformed into a sexual woman and her independence and resourcefulness were quite refreshing. Of course, her conformity to the behaviour expected of her was rather annoying the simpering and being so nice to everyone. In Victorian terms, this niceness just made her crime all the heinous. There is a strong undercurrent of homosexuality between her first husband and his best ‘friend’ who disturbingly marries the husband’s sister at the end of the book. A sister who, rather significantly in my mind, closely resembles her brother.  There are some very telling misogynist passages against all women taking this one person as the archetype of half the population. All this from a man who has basically had every whim catered for and done very little with his life up to this point.

The husband turns up alive at the end of the book but the wife is packed off to a sanatorium in Belgium for the rest of her life, despite not actually killing her first husband as far as I could gather her crime was lying to her first husband about her death and marrying a second husband but since she married before she knew her first husband was still alive it seemed a bit of a harsh punishment.  She does manage to kill the man who is blackmailing her but I can’t feel much sympathy for him.

lady audleyjpg

Perhaps she was punished for being a gold digger, or, tellingly she may be punished for being attractive and deceiving them all or for her lack of sincerity.  I can’t help thinking that her punishment which is as much a being buried alive as any medieval horror was due to her unconformity and selfishness.  Any woman who does not conform to the patriarchal society must be evil. This is quite apparent in paternalistic societies today.

The book reminded me of Dracula or Frankenstein or Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, gothic horror but with underlying layers of meaning. For instance, in a society where towns were growing into huge cities who could know where a strange woman had come from one might have had to take her word for it. Everyone it would appear had his or her place in this worldview God appointed and perhaps part of the blame is because this woman has dared to move up through society to a different stratum.

The only thing I found it hard to empathise with is the abandonment of her baby son to his alcoholic grandfather. Whether my scruples are due to my conventional upbringing or morality I can’t tell. However, I can’t see myself abandoning a baby or marrying someone for his money, although a number of women do that and in victorian days most women one would have thought married for security and a home. 

Written by a woman who lived with her partner who was married to someone else the someone else being in an asylum he had five children as well as the children they had together she hardly led a conventional victorian life and the book she wrote was intriguing.  In addition, it made her enough money to become financially secure.  The issues are also detailed in the case of Constance Kent the young girl who murdered her step brother and the basis of the film “The Suspicions of Mr Whitcher”.  Isn’t it amazing how things that appear disparate are so interconnected? 

Anyway that’s all for now 

Love your mother









Looking for migrants

Dear Lads,

It has been a glorious weekend here. Hot and sunny with just enough breeze to prevent to becoming too uncomfortable. So yesterday we decided to head to Attenborough and see what we could find. As you can imagine the car park was heaving and we spent quite a while trying to sort out a year’s car parking permit. This was compensated for by the sight of the returned sand martins. We watched them entering and leaving their burrows entranced for quite a while.

Here it has changed from early spring to late spring in a matter of a couple of days. Last time I drove to Derby the trees barely held any blossom now they are rapidly covered in leaves. It is as if Spring has become compressed.

Anyway back to my tale. The cettis warblers were singing from every part of the reserve. They were most obliging and came out to be viewed which was very satisfying. An avocet was on Clifton pit unusual but not beyond probability. We missed the little-ringed plover as it had flown off before we could see it and the redstart had likewise departed. However, we walked to LongEaton Meadows and back along the railway line. Butterflies had also decided that spring was now here and were out in force. In a matter of hours, we had seen Brimstone, Peacock, Orange-tip, small white, comma, Small tortoiseshell and speckled wood. They all looked in pristine condition so we assumed they had recently emerged.


Photographs are from butterfly conservation unless stated

We spent five hours wandering about looking for migrants and although we didn’t see any other migrants we head willow warblers and we had a lovely time. We returned home to discover another springtime tradition. Just as the bulbs bloom and the migrants return, the mad woman next door was cursing and swearing whilst she threw bottles and other objects down the garden.

The wonderfully named hairy footed flower bee Anthophora plumipes was out in force as were early bumblebees buff-tailed Bombus terrestris and common carder Bombus pascuorum. We saw several bee-flies  Bombylius major and a hoverfly with a batman marking on the thorax Myathropa florea.


Myathropa florea.

Photographs are from BWARS

This morning another glorious day started and since we were later getting up I went for a swim so after fifty minutes in the pool ( 40+ lengths) and having washed the costume I was just getting ready to go out when I noticed the live trap beside the shed had been triggered. As you know we use the live traps to catch any rats that come off the fields and think that our garden is a cushy place to set up home. I release them a mile of two away beside the river.  We had caught a hedgehog. We had suspected that there were hedgehogs in the garden for some time, now we have definite proof. We gave it some cooked chicken and water which it ignored and we let it go once we had photographed it.

We had caught a hedgehog. We had suspected that there were hedgehogs in the garden for some time, now we have definite proof. We gave it some cooked chicken and water which it ignored and we let it go once we had photographed it.

So being late we set out for Carsington water and made it in good time. If we thought Attenborough was crowded yesterday today Carsington was packed. We didn’t see the willow tit at the feeders but did see a couple of waders on the edge and a pair of linnets on the vegetation. Everywhere we went chiffchaffs were calling. We found reed bunting and tree sparrows on the feeders.


The lady in the hide told us about the peregrine on the mill at Belper so we drove that way to try to see it. Imagine how thrilled we were to have an osprey fly over the car as we drove along. Our delight increased when moments later a buzzard dive bombed the osprey and it literally flew towards us and just over the windscreen. It was truly magical

We parked in the riverside gardens at Belper just as the peregrine flew in and landed on the mill. it remained there for the whole time we visited. The usual suspects were on the mill pond and the river. We found a bench to have our picnic and were surprised to find a tree bumblebee Bombus hypnorum on the berberis near our bench. So sated and with two new species for the year we headed home visiting Thrumpton on the way to see if the corn buntings were around. Whilst we didn’t see or hear any corn buntings the fields were alive with skylarks singing and we did pick up both a sparrowhawk displaying above us and a kestrel hunting along a ditch. I think five raptors is excellent for a day and we have both thoroughly enjoyed the day.

Is it alright if I call the hedgehog Bumble?

Lots of love




Hi Lads,

This weekend has been quite quiet with the rain on Saturday, not to mention being busy today and so as I have very little news for you I thought I would tell you a modern day morality tale.

I first saw Phil last winter. He appeared outside the door one morning and I could see immediately that he was hungry. It was bitterly cold and wet and he looked bedraggled.  I could see how dispirited he was from the way he way he walked and gazed about him in a desultory fashion. He had obviously been a handsome individual , but he looked rather as if  he had hit rock bottom.

As you both know I am a pushover and so I found some food. Of course, he didn’t thank me but he looked a bit happier.

Of course, being smart, he realised that if there was free food around he should try his luck again. He continued to appear at work, looking hungry and bedraggled and I continued to feed him. Despite holidays and weekends, from Monday to friday, he would hang around waiting for food. I never allowed him to come in but I was prepared to buy some food. I am such a sucker and he soon became bolder approaching the door and sitting just outside. Over the course of the last few months, he has definitely put on weight and is looking very attractive. Other people began to notice his presence and would comment on how he seemed to be hanging around the place all the time. Some people thought he was a distraction. When I came to work people would update me on Phil’s antics or on how noisy he had been. Some individuals seemed to particularly delight in telling me how long he had waited for his breakfast making me feel both guilty and rather embarrassed.

Anyway, as Phil became more used to us he approached us more closely. when I opened the door he didn’t look so terrified and instead of running away he just stayed out of reach.  People would come to the room just to see Phil sitting just outside the fire door. He started to alert me to his presence by occasionally tapping on the fire door so that I would know he was waiting. I still only fed him either early morning or late afternoon.

Now, however, he has come to believe that I am just present in order to supply his desire for constant food and I am sure he tells his friends that he has me tamed and ready to feed him on demand. He has taken to rapping on the glass at odd times during the day demanding food and looks very put out if his demands are not met immediately.  He will condescend to take the food out of my hand now rather than insisting that I put the food down and walk away. He is still a bit aggressive as he snatches the food but I expect he cannot help that.

 He is certainly looking far better much brighter and confident. Last week he brought his girlfriend Penelope to visit.  He is about twice the size of Penelope so I think I have been definitely been overfeeding him. She is still rather shy and diffident and is much harder to observe. It can only be a matter of time before lots of little Phils and Penelopes arrive and I will have a whole flock of pheasants. I wonder whether Phil and Penelope will bring them to visit me.


 With love  from your rather gullible mother



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.


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.


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.


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.

black guillemot

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.


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


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.


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.




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.


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.


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.


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.



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


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.



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.



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.


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.




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.


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.



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


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.



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….