Seventy at Seventy

Life Begins at 70


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[28] The Living is Easy

[28] The Living is Easy – a Pictorial Blog about Summer

I have done blogs for Autumn, Winter and Spring. As I said in those it is not easy to define precisely when seasons start and end, so again I will look at some general things that seem to mark the seasons.

To me summer is marked by some or all of the following.

  • Daylight hours are long – more or less staying light except for a period when we are asleep.
  • The weather, in its usual fairly random way, is generally very good. We have lazy hot sunny days, sometimes too hot, and at worst it is comfortably warm. We don’t have to watch out for frosts but may experience some light rain – maybe even thunderstorms after particularly long hot and humid spells.
  • The skies are very often blue with just a few white clouds but there, are, of course exceptions!
  • It is the period of annual holidays abroad for many people and a long school holiday. We avoid the peak time and take our holidays in autumn, winter or spring.
  • I am not a great fan of sport but we have summer sports like Wimbledon tennis flooding our television screens.
  • Summer visiting birds stay all summer but this may not be as long as our summer. Swifts are the last to arrive and the first to leave, usually within a day or two of the first of August.
  • Birds produce their young, care for them and see them leave the nest – all in a few weeks. Many birds successfully rear two or three broods in one summer.
  • Insects go through their generations in the same way going through cycles of metamorphosis. They may be short-lived in the adult stage but two or three generations in a year is typical.
  • I think of summer as the time for flowers but flowering plants have such variable timings that throughout summer you may see buds, flowers and fruits – even on the same plant.
  • Grass, bushes and trees stay a lush green throughout summer.

Flowers

I will show you some flowers here but I have plenty more pictures. There will be two or three blogs just devoted to flowers.

Insects

Apart from the weather the flowers provide pollen for insect food and flowers and leaves are often places for insects to rest and bask in the sun. Here are just a few. Many others will appear in my blogs devoted to insects.

You will have to read my insect blogs to see what these are. I have seen and photographed well over a hundred insect species so far this year. Look out for [15] Butterflies and Dragonflies, [16] Bees, Beetles and Bugs and [17] Flies and Spiders.

Birds

I had to pick something as a topic for pictures of Summer and I went for birds. Whenever I visit Slimbridge in summer there are young ducks, swans and geese. These are birds that are so tame that the parents seem to teach their chicks to love their human visitors who may be bearing food. Not all of these pictures come from Slimbridge.

Coots and Moorhens are also seen with their young

Those are the easy ones to spot but other birds also produce their young in summer.

I will end with some blue skies of summer.

 

You will all recognize ‘The Living is easy,’ from Summertime by George Gershwin, written in 1934 for the musical Porgy and Bess. The words are by DuBose Heyward who wrote the novel Porgy.

The song is a popular jazz standard, one of the most covered pieces of music with over 30 000 versions!

 

Summertime, – And the livin’ is easy – Fish are jumpin’ – And the cotton is high.

Oh, Your daddy’s rich – And your mamma’s good lookin’ – So hush little baby – Don’t you cry.

One of these mornings – You’re going to rise up singing – Then you’ll spread your wings – And you’ll take to the sky

But until that morning – There’s a’nothing can harm you – With your daddy and mammy standing by

Summertime, – And the livin’ is easy – Fish are jumpin’ – And the cotton is high.

Your daddy’s rich – And your mamma’s good lookin’ – So hush little baby – Don’t you cry.

 


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[29] Be Prepared

[29] Be Prepared – A Blog about a Visit to Brownsea Island.

The Island

Brownsea Island is a small island about a mile long but its isolated location in Poole Harbour has given it its own ecological niche. Although it has been farmed in the past the main habitat is mixed forest, mainly pine but with some large, old oak and other deciduous trees. It is famous for the Red Squirrel still found among these trees. Under the trees there are very few wild flowers – just an extensive cover of ferns with some impressive moss and lichen.

There are small areas of grassland and heath – mostly heather. To the North there are wetland areas including lakes, swampy areas and reed beds. There are narrow sandy beaches all around its edge.

The island was the venue for the first recognized Scout camp in 1907 and it maintains links with the memory of the founder of Scouting, Robert Baden-Powell.

Our Visit

I visited the island on a day trip with the Cheltenham Bird Club and we arrived in style at Sandbanks for the ferry.

  

You can use the following map to following my progress but first we need to take the ferry across.

We arrived with plenty of time and it was no surprise that almost our first point of interest was a statue of Baden-Powell.

 

The island is a National Trust property and we need our membership cards to enter. But some areas are private and the wetlands to the North belong to the Dorset Wildlife Trust. There are excellent boardwalks over the swampy ground and several hides for birdwatching.

I visited all the hides and will come to the birds later in this blog. Here is the view from the Macdonald Hide.

Dorset Wildlife Trust had labelled the hides and really wanted us to view them in numerical order.

I think I went wrong at the next bit. There is an arboretum North of The Villa not shown on the map. I climbed up a path through a lot of ferns and ended up following arrow markers backwards

I did get to the Lake Hide and then another boardwalk over swamps took me to the equally unimpressive Reed Hide.

Here is one of several red squirrel feeding stations. I saw no squirrels, just a few Great Tits and Chaffinch.

 

The path on the way out of the Reserve had some impressive displays of lichen.

 

I headed west along Middle Street passing many signs of trees that had fallen or been felled.

There are fire hydrants everywhere, even within forests.

 

I kept on and found the beach at the West end of the island.

 

I found my way to the path north of the Heath area but the intermittent rain dampened my attempts at photography. My camera had recovered when I met this interesting sculpture.

 I was in need of refreshment and headed back to the cafe by the quay. With two service points, only one of which had a functioning coffee machine I had to wait a very short time for my promissory numbered wooden spoon to transform itself.

Sadly it was a colourful salad instead of chips but the cappuccino cake was excellent.

I was soon on my way out again to complete my exploration of the island along its southern edge. I was diverted here, just beyond the Visitor Centre where someone had just seen a Red Squirrel. I waited but without success.

Beyond the warning sign I did find a way down to a small section of beach.

Back at the top were more magnificent trees.

There were more viewpoints and more views and I came down on to the beach by the South Shore Lodge.

I didn’t feel very safe on the beach. The sand was soft and what looked like stone was soft clay.

I found somewhere to climb up near the Scout Camp area.

Most of the day was miserable and wet. This could have been the five minutes when the sun came out.

I returned to the quay area, had another coffee, checked out the letter box and headed home on the ferry.

Birds and Insects

I have missed out some details of the wildlife. I could have shown you a few flowers near to the quay but I have decided that they are not typical of the island. Away from the quay I saw a few rhododendron, lots of heather not in flower and some broom or gorse.

Two birds stood out for me. Sandwich Tern is a bird I rarely see but they breed here and were very close. But for their protection they were enclosed by wire netting that plays havoc with auto-focus!

There was one that perched on a pole above the wires.

The other one that impressed me was the Peacock. [Strictly it’s an Indian Peafowl and the males and females are peacocks and peahens. Purists don’t count them as they may not fall into their definition of wild birds – but I do.]

Here are a pair of sleeping Mute Swan, male and female Mallard by the Lilly Pond, two gulls and a godwit.

My last bird pictures are an Oystercatcher that hopped closer and closer to us as we waited at Sandbanks for our ferry. I have seen many one-legged birds who survive quite well.

I did see some other birds and I heard both Raven and Cuckoo. Apparently everyone else in our group saw a Nightjar.

I look everywhere for insects. They are found wherever there are flowers in the sun. With virtually no flowers and little sunlight I was not very successful.

This male ant ran under my feet while waiting for our outbound ferry.

I found a lovely nest of Wood Ants, Formica rufa, in the woods on the island but I have no good pictures.

I thought the next one was a bee but it’s a hoverfly, Merodon equestris.

 

I have to end by mentioning the squirrels again. The red variety survives here because the grey ones (an invasive species from America) have not spread across from the mainland.

I came across two or three groups of people who had just seen one but they all seemed to avoid me.

 

 

 

 

 


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[27] Spring is in the Air

[27] Spring is in the Air – a Pictorial Blog about Spring

I started with Autumn and I have done Winter so next we look at the season of Spring. We cannot define precisely when seasons start and end, so again I will look in general at the things that seem to mark the seasons.

To me spring is marked by some or all of the following.

  • Daylight hours quickly get longer and light evenings return.
  • The weather, in its usual fairly random way, gets better. It gets warmer and some days are sunny and almost hot – but we still have to watch out for occasional frosts and perhaps light snow even as far as the month of May.
  • The skies begin to return to more blue with clouds that are grey or white rather than black.
  • I should include Easter but now it has almost disappeared from the calendar. We still have chocolate eggs around Easter but hot cross buns are available year round.
  • Summer visiting birds start to arrive. Swallows are the most obvious with their cousins House Martins and Sand Martins but we also have a lot of warblers that can be spotted from their sounds.
  • Birds start to pair up and make nests. With some species the males develop colourful summer plumage to attract the females.
  • Insects begin to emerge. I have been amazed this year to discover how soon they do this. I supposed it’s my new interest in entomology. By the end of April I have already seen six types of butterfly, three of which I have never seen before, and twelve new species of bee!
  • Flowering plants have very variable timings but in general the flowers come out in spring. Early bulbs come out in February and March but many wild flowers don’t appear until May.
  • Trees change dramatically as their leaves emerge. Some flower first while others produce leaves and flowers at the same time. The buds may develop slowly through the winter but the trees can turn almost fully green in just a few days.

Flowers

I can’t attempt a strict chronological order but after the early bulbs of winter the first signs of Spring have to include the swathes of bluebells that come out in our ancient woodlands. Most of the Hyacinthoides non-scripta plants in the world are found in England.

There are many other wild flowers that bloom in spring but these will appear elsewhere.

We also have early crops flowering in spring such as Rape.

Trees

Trees often get flowering in earlier because many trees flower first before their leaves emerge.

Many different trees produce remarkably similar flowers. I have managed to classify them as generally white, sometimes pink and rarely yellow. Apart from that the small flowers are quite similar.

 

I have to include two trees now widely used in gardens, presumably for their flowers which come so early in the year. Forsythia produces recognizable yellow flowers.

They last for just a week or two and fall as the leaves emerge on the trees. The same is true of Magnolia, which produces larger flowers, usually a delicate purple colour – but anything from white to mauve.

Other trees are different. For example the Horse Chestnut has large buds which produce leaves and flower spikes together.

Insects

I will do two or three blogs devoted to insects but I have been surprised this year to see so many appearing in April. They seem to pick the sunny days to emerge!

Animals

As I said in my Winter blog animals are driven by the seasons because of the weather but the more direct reason is their food supplies. They take advantage of the opportunities of summer to raise their young and their sexual habits are seasonal.

Spring is the time for forming pairs, mating, building nests and producing young. We notice it particularly with birds.

I am going to end with some lambs. I don’t think these are naturally seasonal. The ram seems to manage a whole flock without too much encouragement. It’s the farmers who control when the ewes get pregnant and it’s timed to produce their young around Easter. The young lambs are a visible sign of Spring. It used to be one at a time but twins and even triplets are now common.

 

I keep wanting to say ‘Spring is in the Air,’ and I can hear the tune in my mind. But what I am actually hearing is ‘Love is in the Air,’ a worldwide hit from 1978 sung by John Paul Young. I have used a bit of poetic licence in my title. As I have noted above Spring is the time when animals turn to love and mating.

It’s not quite so true with us today but Alfred Lord Tennyson noted in his poem ‘Locksley Hall,’

‘In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.’

 


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[26] The Winter of our Discontent

[26] The Winter of our Discontent – a Pictorial Blog about Winter

I was committed to four seasonal blogs when I started with Autumn. As I said then, it is hard to define precisely when seasons start and end, particularly with our unpredictable British weather. We can only look in general at the things that seem to mark the seasons.

I will start with some generalizations continuing as I did for Autumn.

To me winter is marked by some or all of the following.

  • Daylight hours get even shorter and we get used to darkness all evening.
  • The weather is generally worse. (I should really just say that our climate is different in winter.) We have heavier and more frequent rain, more high winds, more mist and fog and sometimes (but not every year) sleet and snow.
  • With lower temperatures we have frozen lakes and frosty mornings – but only sometimes.
  • The skies are mostly dark and cloudy but we still get some nice blue days.
  • We have the holidays of Christmas and New Year.
  • People go for winter holidays, mostly to get away from our winter weather.
  • Summer visiting birds have gone and winter birds are here. Almost all birds migrate in the winter but we don’t notice. They may fly hundreds of miles and cross the North Sea or just a few mile to change their habitat. The blackbirds and woodpigeon you see in your garden in winter will not be the ones you saw in summer. But, of course, the big difference for birdwatching comes with the little birds. They are much more visible without leaves getting in the way!
  • Insects have disappeared but they are actually hibernating somewhere. I have put my mason bees away in the garage to protect them from frost.
  • Flowering plants have lost their flowers but may keep their berries and fruit throughout winter. In the late winter this provides valuable food for birds. (As for most things, there are exceptions.)
  • Trees have a different look to them without their leaves.
  • Here’s one I only noticed this year. Moss, lichen and fungi seem to flourish without the covering of leafy canopies in trees.

Weather

Before I start here is a picture of an old thermometer that lives on our garage wall.

You can tell it’s old because it has mercury, now frowned upon by Health and Safety, but does it show a temperature around freezing point. It gets much colder than that in winter overnight sometimes.

I will start with frost. Frost, like dew, comes when the air gets too cold to hold at its water vapour. It doesn’t condense as dew and then freeze. It goes straight from water vapour to icy frost. It’s always an overnight phenomenon. We wake up to see frost.

We had our first frost this winter on 6 November and I rushed out for some pictures. It might have been my only opportunity for the year (but it wasn’t.)

Here is a selection of frosty pictures from a few other chilly days.

The last two illustrate Mother Nature at work. Moss and developing buds both need to survive light coverings of frost.

When it’s very cold, still water can freeze. With lakes it’s just a surface layer that freezes. This depends significantly on how deep the water is and how fast it is flowing. (I won’t go into the complicated science of water and ice.) At Slimbridge I sometimes find that some lakes are frozen but those with lots of waterfowl on them keep unfrozen.

(There is a species of Shelduck that used to disappear in the winter. No one knew where they went. Now we have satellite photography everywhere and we do know. They go somewhere in the frozen Arctic and keep moving enough so that the flock has a circle of water to rest on.)

I missed the opportunity to photograph some ducks and gulls trying to walk across ice but here are some frozen lakes.

When the water is relatively undisturbed it can freeze to form a mirror-like surface. This helps to make clear reflections of the sky and landscape.

When it comes to snow it’s even rarer than frost. Very occasionally we get a few inches settling at least once in the winter but often it’s none at all.

We had a light flurry this year in Mid-January and quickly I was out to photograph what I could find. The ground was not very cold so the snow settled first on bushes and cars.

Well it did just about provide a thin covering of the pavements, roads and even some rooves.

I had to wait a few weeks for another light flurry, just enough for some countryside pictures but not what you would call deep snow!

Weather does strange things with water and water vapour and winter sometimes brings mist and fog.

Here is a distant misty patch in the Forest of Dean and an almost invisible view of the street where I live in an early morning fog.

You will see more ominous dark skies in winter.

Also there are still sunny blue skies.

Although the dark clouds may bring rain the bright skies warn of cloudless nights. When there is no protective cloud covering at night the earth gets much colder so the blue skies often precede cold nights with heavy frosts.

Plants

The fruit and berries of the Autumn either stay on the trees or drop to the ground and provide valuable food for over-wintering birds (and, presumably, for insects and other animals.)

And the moss and lichen seems to spring to life as in winter they have plenty of rain and much more light than when the trees are in leaf.

The most significant and obvious sign of winter is, of course, the trees.

In Autumn we saw the leaves change from green to reds and yellows and browns but then they generally fall to the ground and leave bare trees.

Of course, without leaves in the way, mistletoe also thrives in the winter. Cheltenham is virtually the Mistletoe Capital of Britain.

Now is the time to talk a little about exceptions to rules.

We think of coniferous trees as being evergreen and other trees as deciduous but it’s not that simple. There are evergreen varieties of oak and the coniferous larch is deciduous. Smaller bushes and shrubs may be evergreen or deciduous.

Perhaps the common (or European) beech tree is most unusual. Its leaves turn dry and brown in autumn and higher ones fall off – but for approximately three metres from the ground the leaves stay on.

Perhaps this is one reason why you so often see beech hedges.

I am not quite sure about oak but some oak trees also keep their dead leaves over winter.

The other exceptions are flowers. It’s not as straightforward as flowering in spring. Every tree and plant has its own flowering time through the year starting with the snowdrops and other early bulbs.

I have a Fatsia japonica in my garden. (Also known as Aralia japonica or Aralia sieboldii.) It was given to me as a house plant and seemed to die after about a year. So I put in the garden just in case it was still alive. It grew and thrived. After surviving two or three transplants it is probably the oldest specimen plant in our garden now. It must be about thirty years old and it’s nearly three metres tall.

Wikipedia says it flowers in late autumn but to me it is early winter, generally around Christmas.


The Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium, is another one. (This one also has several names and is sometimes known as Berberis.) I pass several of these on my daily walks that may possibly be related species.

Anyway, Wikipedia says this flowers in early spring but the ones I have seen flowered through the winter. They have spikes of yellow flowers with some coming out in November and others in December and on to March – in spite of occasional coverings with frost.

Then there is Heather. Wikipedia says there are more than 800 species of Erica, known as Winter Heather. Some grow wild and man are cultivated as small evergreen garden shrubs. They seem to flower throughout the year. Here are some from this winter.

Animals

The reasons why animals migrate in winter are not only the inclement weather but also the changes in plants and other animals that affect food supply. Some birds change their digestive systems as they change from insects to seeds and berries for their food.

England has some birds that are here all year, some that visit in winter and some that come in summer. I have said something about winter waterfowl and may talk about other migrating birds but the animals I want to mention is the squirrel.

Our Grey Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis, is an introduced species that has spread and has more or less replaced the Red Squirrel through most of England and Wales.

You see them in the trees in the winter.

And you see them on the ground – either burying nuts (or pine cones) or retrieving ones they hid earlier.


I must admit that I was surprised to see a squirrel in our garden feeding from our fig tree!

I am sure you all recognized the title, ‘Winter of our Discontent.’

It comes from the beginning of the play, Richard III by William Shakespeare.

Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun [or son] of York.

Here it has nothing to do with winter!

 

 


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[23] Beside the Seaside

[23] Beside the Seaside – a Blog about a Visit to Bournemouth

We go to Bournemouth for a few days every winter. It’s basically a Bridge holiday and we play cards in the afternoon and evening but we also have time to see some of the sights.

Although it’s a nice location and a pleasant hotel on the clifftops we don’t normally get good weather. This year was particularly dismal but that didn’t stop us getting out.

SUNDAY

Salisbury

I am going to take things more or less in chronological order so I will start with the journey there. It was a Sunday afternoon and while almost everyone else took a coach trip from Cheltenham Bridge Club we took a more leisurely drive avoiding the motorways. We stopped at Salisbury and parked quite near to the centre.

Salisbury is an old town. It dates from the early Thirteenth Century with its city charter in 1227, following Neolithic and Roman settlements at Old Sarum, just a mile or two away. You can still see many old buildings in the city.

Cathedral

We headed for the Anglican Salisbury Cathedral, formerly the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, built in the years 1220-58. It has the tallest spire in Britain, the largest cloister and the largest cathedral close (and the World’s oldest clock, which we will come to later.)

In many ways it is typical of English Cathedrals with its ornate statues outside, decorated windows and plaques with armorial bearings.

It still had a Nativity scene as the church continues to celebrate Christmas until its next significant period of Lent.

The Cathedral was the burial site for Edward Heath, (1916-2005) Prime Minister from 1970 to 1974. He lived in the Cathedral Close for the last twenty years of his life.

Clock

This large iron-framed clock without a dial located in the aisle of Salisbury Cathedral supposedly dates from about 1386, and it is claimed to be the oldest working clock in the world. Several other clocks make similar claims and it is not certain that this is actually the 1386 clock. Most of the parts of the striking train are believed to be original but it has undergone extensive restoration in 1956.

As mentioned earlier, here is a view of the Cloister with its impressive yew trees.

MONDAY

Our Hotel

We arrived on Sunday afternoon, checked out the facilities, had our evening meal and played Bridge. The weather was too miserable to venture outside.

The next morning is was still wet and misty. From our window we could see just as far as the cliff tops. It was mostly mist rather than rain so we set off outside after breakfast through the hotel gardens.

A pair of crows were too busy searching for food to notice me. They are usually very wary and difficult to photograph.

(I am not sure how much of the poor quality here is attributable to the mist. I have adjusted the contrast a bit.)

There used to be a large house next to the hotel. It looked as if it had been knocked down with no immediate decision as to what to do with the ‘development opportunity.’

Here is the front of the hotel in the mist.

Walk to Boscombe

We know by now that the walk to the nearby town of Boscombe is always worth doing. Just a few yards from the hotel we crossed the road for our descent to the sea.

If you look closely the map shows the way to Boscombe and the inset shows the zig-zag path down to the beach. It was quite a long way down – passing some gorse bushes already in flower.

At the bottom we could see the sand with groynes all along the beach. The edge of the sea was just about visible in the mist.

Sadly these iconic beach-huts were also obscured by mist.

We walked along the little road by the beach. (‘Promenade’ would be too grand a title for this section of the way.)

The East Cliff Lift, currently out of action, was also enveloped in mist.

There were some gulls and one or two oystercatchers. I took some relatively murky pictures in the misty conditions. This is my best one, doctored a bit.

By walking on to the beach we could actually see some breaking waves.

It won’t surprise you to know that I took some pictures of the sandy surface.

Along the walk were several of these constructions for outdoor physical exercises. We didn’t try them out.

Grey wagtails are well-known for their affinity to running water but at the sea edge Pied Wagtails are more common. This one allowed me to get surprisingly close. Perhaps I was hidden in the mist. I did also spot some Turnstone nearer the water but these were too far away for even murky pictures.

Boscombe Pier

The pier was just visible as we approached it. We walked up and down for some equally misty views of the sea and Boscombe.

The sun was trying to come out as it reflected on the sea.

I have studied birds for about ten years since retiring and can identify most common birds but juvenile gulls are difficult. When this one grows up it will be a Herring Gull or a Lesser Black-backed Gull (LBBG) but I have no idea how to tell young ones apart!

 

(Just beyond the pier we stopped at the Reef café as we always do – excellent coffee and pastries, free Wi-Fi, but no pictures.)

Boscombe Chine

A ‘chine’ is a deep-side valley, often without a river, but the term in the UK is limited to a section of the South Coast (and the Isle of Wight.) There are several West of Bournemouth but the one at Boscombe to its East is an excellent example. We always walk through it before returning to our hotel.

There were pipes and construction work along the bottom of the valley so we skirted round on the higher paths.

We returned to the hotel by the road at the top of the cliffs.

TUESDAY

The River Bourne

Tuesday was another misty day but we went for another walk. It was just a few yards on the sloping path down to the beach to the Russell-Cotes Museum.

We usually fit in a visit to the museum but not this year. The £6:00 charge where it used to be free may have had something to do with our decisions.

Here are two of the many little sculptures on the railings outside as we walked down to the town.

The Pier was more visible as we approached and we moved through the gardens.

We just followed the river upstream. It was more or less a partly drained swampy area with some features – a Japanese bridge and a tower.

Much of it was still very wet with boardwalks for walkers.

We came as far as the Coy Pond, a small lake by more formal gardens.

Resident birds included some Muscovy ducks, sleeping on a central island, and some Mallards more willing to pose for pictures.

It’s called the Coy Pond because it used to be a Decoy. You will remember decoys from my blog about Slimbridge.

Of course that was only half of our walk but the return journey covered almost the same path.

WEDNESDAY

Sandbanks

Another misty start to the day.

We walked into town and waited for a bus.

Below us in the gardens there was a Lesser Black-backed Gull, unusual in an area where Herring Gulls are common.

We took the bus to the peninsular of Sandbanks jutting out into Pool Harbour, just about the most expensive place to live in the UK. Unfortunately we did not have time to explore this huge harbour but we had a brief glimpse of a small part of it.

We crossed the narrow isthmus to the South side and walked back along the beach towards Bournemouth. Visibility was now good. We could see sand, sea, waves and sometimes cliffs.

We passed gorse and heather before coming to a café where we stopped.

After a light snack at the café we resisted the temptation for an ice-cream.

After more sand and sea we passed the western lift and approached Bournemouth and its pier.

It was our last day and the weather was becoming much better. I will end with views from out hotel window taken later that day. You can compare them with the views when we arrived!

 

 


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[21] As We Understand Him

[21] As We Understand Him – A Blog about Christmas

This won’t be a detailed blog about what I did this Christmas because I try to keep these blogs impersonal. I don’t photograph or name people. (I always try not to show addresses, telephone numbers or car registration numbers in pictures.)

It will be partly about Christmas in general but will also show some things that I did over Christmas in a vague way – a sort of random, rambling blog.

Shops

I was a tiny bit surprised, only a tiny bit, when I started doing this blog on the first of November to find that shops were already preparing for Christmas with trees and decorations. So I had to include a picture. This was in Marks & Spencer – taken 1 November. (I did check on the Internet and it seems that they now call themselves M&S but I still think of them as Marks.)

tree01

With low profile coverage of Fireworks Night it had been Halloween that dominated October but through November and December Christmas totally took over. The shops filled with potential ideas for presents and even the supermarkets filled with luxury and exotic foods. But I won’t give you lots of shopping pictures.

Signs and Decorations

Here are a few more signs of Christmas, just some things I caught on camera.

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Holly and Ivy

Traditionally we have holly and ivy as Christmas decorations. We even have carols about them. They both make pretty decorations as leaves but holly is also known for its berries. I pass holly bushes and lots of ivy every day.

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The ivy leaf above is covered in drops from recently thawed frost.

Ivy does have tiny berries that we don’t normally notice. They start green and turn to a dark purple colour.

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[You may be starting to think that I’m just making up a pastiche of odd pictures to make up a blog. If so you would be completely right. That’s what blogs are for!]

Mistletoe

I have been wondering what to do in my blogs with Mistletoe, the obligate hemi-parasitic plant. It could fit in somewhere under Plant Life but it’s not a typical flowering plant. Traditionally we have tiny sprigs of mistletoe at Christmas following pre-Christian mythology. So it’s going into my Christmas post.

I have spent all of my adult life in Cheltenham, which is the mistletoe capital of Europe. (I won’t go into its detailed ecology but Cheltenham has just the right arrangement of trees.) We have many streets where the pavements are lined with large trees covered in mistletoe. It comes into its glory over winter when the leaves of the trees are gone. We take it for granted. I don’t think any other town has so much freely visible mistletoe.

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They produce many white berries but the tiny sprigs may only have two or three.

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Trees and Decorations

I won’t bore you with pictures of decorations but here is my attempt at a decorated tree for this year. Our trees always have a fairy on the top.

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And here are some others from this Christmas.

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Food

We did of course have the traditional Christmas Dinner, excellently cooked and presented. But I didn’t interrupt the proceedings to take pictures for you. You know what turkey and its accompaniments look like.

I am going to mention my traditional contribution to the meal because it’s almost the only thing I ever cook. I do a Bakewell Tart using an old family recipe. I’ve done it every year for a few years.

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bakewell02

I make it at home and take it with us and it’s one of several options that come at the dessert stage after Christmas Dinner. This year the dinner started about 5 pm and the Bakewell Tart stage was about 6:30.

[Ok, I’m going to be honest. The recipe came from the Internet a few years ago. It was the winner in a television competition and it’s actually a Frangipane Tart. The original recipe included how to make the pastry, the jam in the filling and the custard. I use frozen pastry and buy the jam – and we have squirty cream instead of custard. It’s near enough.]

Aldbury

This delightful village has been my location over Christmas for many years. We stay with relatives.

We leave home at 3:00 pm on the dot on Christmas Eve so we can listen to the Nine Lessons and Carols from the choir at King’s College, Cambridge and we stay for three nights.

It’s a real little village with a church, a school, a village shop, two pubs and even its own village pond.

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aldbury02

It still has a working public telephone box.

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Jigsaw Puzzles

We used to do 2000 piece puzzles every year but now it’s just me and normally 1000. This year I failed dismally to complete 750.

jigsaw

But it’s fun trying. (We were busy elsewhere as you will see in a minute.)

A Walk in the Forest

Christmas is a time for family traditions (like the jigsaw) and for us there is tradition of a walk up the hill behind Aldbury on Boxing Day morning.

walk01

It starts with quite a steep climb and then becomes flatter but muddy.

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It’s very much a walk in a forest with leaves on the ground and not on the trees.

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At the top there were lots of signs, a café (unfortunately closed this year,) and a monument.

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We do the walk every year so we know that the monument is for the Duke of Bridgewater, ‘Father of Inland Navigation.’

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I have put the last two pictures from the walk here because I like them. Both show the sky well in a sort of silhouette.

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walk09So Boxing Day was a bit similar to our usual Boxing Day. After the walk we had lunch with the traditional bubble-and-squeak. Those who know me will appreciate that I am not a fan of this Christmas delicacy but I managed to survive with a bit of turkey and other goodies. The afternoon and evening were not as usual …

A Wedding

We were delighted to be heavily involved in a wedding of a close relative on Boxing Day. Lunch for eighteen, earlier than usual, had included the groom and lots of relatives and we all had our allotted tasks in the great spreadsheet of wedding preparations.

Suitably dressed in our formal attire we went to the local church just before dusk.

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churchinside

I won’t give details of the service, which more or less went as planned – apart from the vicar dropping both rings. It was a perfect ceremony for a lovely couple – two of the nicest people I know.

It was just about dark when we came outside.

churchsunset

 

A very short walk took us to the school next door for the reception.

school

(The picture was taken earlier with a bit more light.)

It was an informal sort of reception and much of the preparation had been done by the bride helped by friends and relatives.

weddinglights

The ‘wedding cake’ was an artistic masterpiece lovingly crafted from individual chocolate brownie and rocky road pieces.

cake

I suppose it was a mixture of traditional with family. We had two excellent and amusing speeches – then we had a buffet style curry meal – and then we had a quiz!

It wasn’t a typical Boxing Day and it wasn’t a typical wedding reception.

But it was a day I will remember with much fondness.

weddingafter

So it hasn’t been a blog about Christmas. It’s been about my Christmas experiences this year.

 

I’m in a pensive post-Christmas mood and my title comes from – well, some of you will recognize it –

‘We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.’

We can all understand God in our own way.

I was so lucky to get this final picture of a traditional Christmas Robin seen in my back garden on 1 November.

robin

 

 


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[22] Paved with Good Intentions

[22] Paved with Good Intentions – A blog about road resurfacing

It all started towards the end of November when the signs went up.

01mainsign

In the street where I live and at all of its entrances we were warned. Our road surface was quite rough and for a few years we have had pot-holes in winter temporarily fixed up every year with some minor patches on the worst bits. I guessed that the whole road was going to get a makeover and I thought it might make a topic for a blog! I waited, watched and took lots of pictures.

Well, I hadn’t completely fixed all my blog topics and so here it is. The road was closed for four days and now we have a nice new surface from end to end.

02tarmac

Tarmac

I am going to put a few more words into this blog than some of them and I have looked into road surfacing. I do my research on the Internet and tend to trust Wikipedia as a source. Names, dates and figures will come from there.

We start with Macadam, a road construction method initiated by John Loudon McAdam sometime around 1820. He used layers of angular crushed stone, thoroughly compacted, with a binding layer of finer stone dust.

Then we come to Tarmac, patented in 1901 by Edgar Hooley. It added tar and bituminous surface treatments to Macadam. Wikipedia also uses the term Asphalt Concrete. I won’t go into technical details. Tar, asphalt and bitumen are all very thick liquids extracted from coal or petroleum and our road surface are a type of concrete made with crushed stones and some of this sticky stuff.

[Note: To Americans we are talking about ‘pavement’, which means the road surface. We say ‘pavement’ for what Americans call the sidewalk. Let’s not get too bogged down in semantics.]

I won’t attempt to go into the changes in the second half of the Twentieth Century to the original Tarmac Company but the name is used and we had at least one vehicle in the street bearing the name.

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Our Road

It all went very smoothly. They kept to the four days indicated and we did get a completely new surface. Most of the time there were twenty to thirty vehicles almost filling our very short road and it was done in a complex way which seemed to involve different bits of the road at different stages all the time! (Just a few of the vehicles are shown above.) I will unravel it a bit below as if it was done logically and sequentially.

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Access

Technically the road was closed to all vehicles and we even had cones and ribbon between the road and our house.

09cone

(Yes, that is frost. It was very cold for the first day!)

But the array of people and vehicles always included someone at each entrance to manage the barriers and cones for local traffic. I think in theory they stood there waiting but in practice they sat in relatively warm cars and nipped out when needed. We could almost always get out from our house on to the road or back. They would move vehicles to give us access. But once or twice we had to park just round the corner and walk. (We are lucky. We have plenty of drive space. The road is usually home to lots of cars parked there overnight.)

They worked from about 10:00 each day and at around 4:00 when it was getting dark they would clear up and get out of the way. Overnight we had free access but over very bumpy surfaces!

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11scraper

Scraping

The first stage is done by a very slow moving vehicle that scrapes off the old surface and takes it on a long conveyor belt to an equally slowly moving lorry.

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I did wonder what happens to the surface that’s removed. I don’t see why it can’t be recycled to make more tarmac but maybe it goes to landfill. I would say – ‘maybe one of my readers can tell me’ – but I’m not sure if I have any readers.

It was all done with impressive accuracy dividing the road into long narrow strips.

13strips

I think that some parts of the road must have survived in better condition than others. At the top end of the road they scraped off all the tarmac down to the layers of hard core and sand below and rolled this flat.

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15roller

Down the other end in front of our house they only took off about half of the tarmac.

16scrapededge

Drains

We take drains for granted but they get in the way when the road surface is being done.

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When I was younger workers manhandled pneumatic drills. I’m not really surprised that now this is more automated. I don’t think Health and Safety would allow a man to do it now.

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The drill is part of another of the vehicles that descended on us. It loosens the material round the drain cover after the scraper has done the rest of the road.

19afterdrill

Then men with shovels and brooms came to clear up the loosened surface material.

Of course there are lots of other metal covers that needed special attention at all stages of the process.

20cover  21smallcovers

Paving

There was another heavy vehicle to do the next stage.

22paver

With a lorry depositing raw tarmac into the front hopper it was fed to the rear where it was dropped and pressed. It left a strip about the same sort of width as the scraper managed.

23edge

When it moved to do the next strip the join was seamless. The surface was now almost perfect.

24surface

The tar was hot. You could hear it crackling as it cooled. And you could see tiny bits of leaves jumping on the surface. It was ready for the next operation.

Rolling

I remember steam-rollers as big, very slow vehicles with a very heavy roller at the front. Now they are much faster and have two rollers. (Ok, they are faster than they used to be and faster than the paving machine. But not as fast as I can walk.)

25roller

Two of them would work together following the paving machine. Somehow they were lubricated with water and the surface steamed lightly behind them.

26roller  27steam

Finishing

At the end of the four days we had a nice new road surface, the ribbons were taken away and the cones were piled up for collection.

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All the drains and covers were smoothly aligned and we had bright new road markings.

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It took another day or two to finish the end of the street by the main road where we now have a new road hump acting as a cycle crossing.

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On a personal note, this is just in front of our house – in chronological order, from the rough surface in need of treatment to the new makeover picture.

outside01 outside02 outside03 outside04 outside05 outside06 outside07 outside08

The Road to Hell

I’m sure you all know about this expression but it’s a saying I learnt from my mother. If you ever meant to do something good – but didn’t get round to doing it.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions.

Although many people believe that this comes from Samuel Johnson, who did say something close, he was following others. In Boswell’s Life of Johnson, in an entry marked April 14, 1775, Boswell quotes Johnson as saying, “Hell is paved with good intentions.” There are earlier sources and it is generally attributed to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), as “Hell is full of good intentions or desires.”L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés ou désirs.

My mother had lots of good sayings and she also used to say, “Procrastination is the thief of time.” This is the best known line of the long poem by Edward Young, The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, & Immortality, published in nine parts between 1742 and 1745. It comes in a passage in which the poet discusses how quickly life and opportunities can slip away.