Monday, January 12, 2009

The Mom Song

Jane sent me this wonderful video and I'm going to try to post it here. Enjoy!

Monday, January 05, 2009

New Year, New Colours!

Hi all!

Messing about with blogs, webpages, templates, stylesheets and the like and decided to change the way my blog looks! It's the same old material, in a new wrapper - I suppose I should put the price up to match. Isn't that what they do in the shops?

Bah humbug!!!!!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Happy New Year!

Well, we're well into the New Year already! I expected to spend New Year's day doing this post, but I had a bit of a hangover and John was in bed with a feverish cold, so I loafed around the house doing absolutely nothing all day!

On New Year's eve John was well in the morning and we spent it with Mike Russell, going around the garden and doing some planning. There will be more about that in my next posting. In the afternoon John's temperature started to climb and he went off to bed. Dave and Pam came down the drive for their dinner and the three of us saw the New Year in, while I ferried small amounts of food and drink up to the invalid in bed!

Yesterday was John's birthday and he insisted on a bit of birdwatching. That was a mistake as he is now coughing and feeling quite poorly again. Tomorrow is our Ruby (40th) wedding anniversary and we have plans to go to a local carvery for a big Sunday lunch. We'll see if he's up to it.

John did quite a good review of the year for his Christmas letter, so I'm going to include it here [with comments, of course!]:

"In February we spent a few days on the "Jurassic Coast" ( in Dorset and Devon, in the Lyme Regis area. An artist friend (Karel Hughes) was having an opening of her work in a Devon gallery and another artist friend (Pam Jordan) was contributing to the show, so we decided to make an appearance. Not totally irrelevant to this decision was the fact that many of the people there were old Swansea University cronies and that a party of significant proportions and intensity has been promised. The show and the party were excellent (we bought paintings by both artists), the scenery and bird watching were very good and the walking along the coast invigorating.

In April, I went to Norfolk for some birding and a meeting that requires a bit of explanation. Every 10-15 years, the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology),, in conjunction with other bird watching organisations, seeks to produce an atlas of bird distributions and abundance for the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland ( This involves organising a vast number of volunteers to survey bird populations in 10 km x 10 km grid squares over the two countries, both in winter and the breeding season. At the same time, the Shropshire Ornithological Society (SOS) is "piggybacking" on this effort to produce a county wintering and breeding bird atlas, with sampling at 2 km x 2 km ( These data are invaluable in studying the changes in the fortunes of different bird species and to inform conservation and biodiversity efforts by government departments and other nature-oriented groups. Well, I am the organiser of this effort for the south-central area of Shropshire and it falls to me to find volunteers, assign sampling areas, provide support and assistance etc. In addition, I am "Data Manager" for the Shropshire atlas project and am responsible for statistical analysis and mapping of the data collected in the surveys. The Norfolk meeting (at the BTO headquarters in Thetford) was for local atlas workers to be briefed by the BTO and to exchange ideas etc. I took the opportunity to go two days early and explore the very birdy north Norfolk coast.

In late May, it was again off to the east coast, to Suffolk this time. Joan and I had been invited to a wedding of the son of an old school friend of hers [actually older than that - friends from the womb!]. The wedding was made notable by the fact that we met there a woman who we had last seen in Columbus, Ohio, as a postgraduate student in Geography, and with whom we had had no contact since. It turned out that she had been to university with the bride. Weird coincidence (but then aren't all coincidences weird by definition). Unable to forego the ornithological attractions of Suffolk, we spent some time at the RSPB reserve at Minsmere before returning home. [John's emphasis on birding means he forgot the mention the wonderful day at Sutton Hoo!]

June took us further afield - to Cucugnan in Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France. Our friends Dolly and Chris have a house there are were driving down for a few weeks so we accompanied them for the first part of their stay. The weather was quite stunning while we were there and we spent time touring around taking in the sights, especially the Cathar castles perched impossibly in the rugged terrain. Naturally, there was good bird watching to be done, so trips to inland hills and coastal lagoons were part of the plan and some superb species unfamiliar to northern Europe were seen. Naturally, eating good French country food and assisting the natives in disposing of recent wine grape harvests were major foci of the trip too. Following just over a week in Cucugnan, we took the train back to Church Stretton (TGV to Lille where we spent the night and most of the next day, Eurostar to London, and from there back home).

In July were almost became boat owners. You may be aware that we love boating on the British canals and have been looking to buy a part share in a narrowboat for some time. So has my sister Joy and her husband. Two shares in a boat of the type we were interested in came up for sale in July, so we went to look at it with the possibility of both couples taking a share each. Unfortunately, the craft was not quite as well looked after as we thought (it was quite old), so we decided against the purchase. However, looking at that one has helped to crystallise our ideas about what we want so we are still looking.

Later in July was the Church Stretton and South Shropshire Arts Festival ( Joan is heavily involved with the visual arts part of this event (painting, sculpture, photography, fabrics etc). That show runs for two weeks but there are many other performances during that period, mostly of a musical nature. I have no official role to play in the arts festival but do get involved as manual labour, setting up and tearing down displays, and was also conned into taking photographs at all of the events. An additional duty is putting up and feeding some of the guests to keep festival costs down. This year we had two members of the Wihan Quartet ( Image) and also three singers and one orchestra member from the Opera East performance of "The Marriage of Figaro". Joan takes over running the visual arts part of the festival this year and is also their web designer and maintainer.

August brought bathroom renovations. The previous owner of this house took out all of the baths and replaced them with showers. Joan wanted a bath back so we had the downstairs bathroom knocked through to include the adjacent toilet and put in a whirlpool bath, along with a complete renovation of the room (which was looking a bit "tired"). The job was done very professionally and we are very happy with it. Joan now spends time submerged in foam bubbles in there, "thinking through the problems that face her"! [One of the problems being that we havn't painted the ceiling yet, or fixed up the hallway where the old door was blocked up. Oh well, there's more important things in life than working on the house!]

Also in August was the Church Stretton Food Fayre (yes, I know the quaint spelling is appalling but it's not my fault). Joan and I were both involved with this event, which has been a successful promotion for the town and source of money for local charities for several years, ever since foot and mouth disease closed the countryside to walkers and devastated the economy of Church Stretton, which is very much oriented towards walking tourism. This year we almost had a disaster due to the weather, which would have meant that the large balance we had accumulated over the years would have been dissipated. As it happened, the rains let up for the two days of the fair (mostly) and the event was a great success, despite a soggy site and no proper car parking because of the state of the ground. Nevertheless, the committee decided that this was to be the last Food Fayre in this form and we disbanded, which meant about £37,000 went to local good causes, including our new Leisure Centre being built at the school (but for the general public). I had responsibility for the Food Fayre website as well as general labouring during the fair (including seven hours of directing traffic this year due to poor parking conditions). It is a relief to be done with the website but I have now been dragooned into continuing to do the web pages for the Church Stretton Walking Festival, which was part of the food event due to an accident of history but which will now continue independently (

August and September brought overseas visitors. HaPe Schmid (, a fellow climatologist (erstwhile of Indiana University and now in Germany) and his family stayed with us overnight on their Father Cadfael ( odyssey.

Shortly thereafter we received a longer visit from various polymer clay artist friends of Joan's from Columbus. They spent a few days in London, Bath and Stonehenge with Joan before coming on to Shropshire. [Our three days in London were crammed - went straight to Windsor Castle from the airport on the first day. Then the other two days included Tower of London, St. Paul's, Greenwich, a ride on the Thames and lots of rubber necking walking around town. Our journey back to C.S. was beset by rain and flood, but we managed to see Stonehenge and Bath so we did OK!]

In September I was conned into giving a talk to the Ludlow branch of the Probus organisation on "Global Warming: a Review of the Science and its Critics", which seemed to go pretty well although there were a few rather vocal sceptics in the audience raising the usual criticisms. (This is not to say there might not be some valid arguments against a human origin for recent warming but these weren't those arguments!)

Immediately after that we drove up for a few days in Skipton, Yorkshire, where Joan was representing Church Stretton at a meeting on the revitalisation of market towns, along with a local councillor and friend. [Not a very productive meeting, but we made a few contacts which may serve well one day - who knows?] Needless to say, I avoided that and spent the time walking in the Yorkshire Dales ( and (what a surprise!) birding. The weather was not great but we did all have a superb walk in the Malham Tarn and Cove area on the one sunny but very windy day after the meeting was over.

Nov 4th saw us staying up very late, with a bottle of wine and a few snacks, watching the US election results come in. It was an exciting election that attracted quite a bit of interest this side of the Atlantic, not least because of the impact that the health of the American economy has here in Europe. There was also quite a bit of interest in Barack Obama and a type of uncomprehending perplexity about Sarah Palin. The outcome was as WE had hoped but it still astounds me that so many ordinary Americans find it possible to vote for candidates whose interests diverge so markedly from their own, whose agenda are so transparently self-serving, who are associated with an administration that has been characterised by corruption and constitutional jiggery-pokery, and are imbeciles into the bargain. I did have a great deal of respect for John McCain as an individual (although I was not sure his particular strengths were quite those needed by the US right now) but his choice of Sarah Palin as his running-mate raised in me issues about his grip on reality. The most benevolent interpretation I can come up with is that she was forced on him by the Republican Right. Apart from the fact that she possessed no qualifications to be president (and given McCain's age, that is what she stood a good chance of becoming), she was a very scary woman (maybe even scarier than Dick Cheney). How is it possible that a goodly fraction of the voters of a civilised, developed, forward-looking country like the US could bring themselves to endorse a person like Ms Palin? On this line, I very much like <>.

Joan and I continue to volunteer at the Shrewsbury Museum ( After completing the identification and cataloguing of Victorian bird taxidermy specimens, we are now identifying, cleaning, cataloguing and conserving birds eggs. The eggs are largely from amateur collections established in the late 1800s and early 1900s. (It is, of course, now illegal to collect wild birds's eggs in the UK.) Many of these collections have been poorly looked after over the years and take quite an effort to conserve. Since the museum is moving in the next few years to new facilities, there is something of an incentive to get the job done before the move. Also, next year is a big one for Shrewsbury as it is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, and he is a son of the town. All sorts of celebratory events are planned, some of which will involve the Museum and our bird Victorian taxidermy and egg specimens.

Much of my other activities are bird-related, as you might guess. I write regular articles for the "Buzzard", the SOS magazine, [his Buzzard articles are also published on a web site] do assorted bird surveys and help run the Church Stretton branch of the SOS.

We have recently decided that we need more help with our garden, which is quite large and not that easy to maintain. We have employed a garden designer to suggest limited modifications to make it easier to look after but to enhance its wildlife potential. It already is pretty good for nature but we would like to extend this by introducing some different types of habitats (e.g. meadow) without losing the environments we already have. Additionally, we will work with him in person doing most of the work required. I am paranoid about losing cover and nesting habitat for birds but he seems to understand my perspective as he specialises in nature gardening and has a background in conservation. Keep your eyes on Joan's blog for developments in this area.

Joan's health check-ups have been good with no recurrence of cancer. We are hoping that in a couple of years she will be able to finish with the drugs she was prescribed for five years, which have lots of nasty side-effects. She is making something of a name for herself as a local wheeler-dealer, working on the sustainable tourism initiative and insinuating herself into various aspects of local politics. She also takes a major role both in the Church Stretton and South Shropshire Arts Festival and in Scrappies - a local charity "scrap for arts and crafts" store, for which she is again web person ( She has not yet agreed to run for the local council but I see it in the future! [Forget it - there is NO WAY!!!!!] She is a one-woman non-governmental organisation!

The downturn in the economy is, of course, very evident here as this area depends quite heavily on tourism and folk have less disposable cash to spend of travelling. However, as most of the tourist focus here is on hill walking and mountain biking, I don't think we have been affected as much as areas depending on more expensive leisure pursuits. From a personal point of view, the drop in the value of the pound relative to the dollar has been a great boon to us as our pensions are paid in US dollars and are, hence, buying more pounds here.

We have just returned from a week in Montreal [where I took the picture at the top of this post!]. I am on the oversight board of the EPiCC (Environmental Prediction in Canadian Cities) project, which is concerned with urban climates in Canada ( The board meets annually and the Montreal trip was for this purpose, although we stayed on for a few more days of city life, museums, concerts etc. We had a great time although it was pretty cold (-19 deg C was the coldest while we were there) with lots of snow.

Christmas will be with my sister Joy in Nuneaton, a pattern we have followed since our return to the UK. We will, of course, overeat, over-drink and lie about like bloated walruses before being consumed by guilt and shame, prompting plans to look after ourselves in 2009 (which we will be unable to do, thus leading to depression and low self-esteem). Tidings of comfort and joy to you too! [We've been and done that - It was lovely!]

What else? I continue my involvement with photography, especially nature photography [me too, but I mostly take snaps! This is one of the waxwings we saw on New Year's Eve]. We have frequent trips to Symphony Hall Birmingham for concerts by the CBSO and other orchestras and also take in a few plays each year. I have become increasingly interested in cookery and have improved considerably, having shaken off the tendency to panic when things don't go quite as I had planned, although I still have a long way to go. I do virtually all of the day-to-day cooking now and, as long as I have my glass of wine and some music on, I find it very relaxing. [So do I as I'm off the hook! And he is making the most delicious meals - YUM!]

Next year will be our ruby wedding anniversary (!!!!!!) so we are planning a few special occasions. One will be a trip to Costa Rica in March for a bird watching trip. The tour is a small group one organised by some friends from Columbus Audubon, who asked whether we would be interested in joining them. We have never been anywhere like Costa Rica and it should be very interesting, with lots of new (and spectacular) bird species to see."

Well, that's all for now. I hope to be posting a lot of stuff about the garden this year as the renovations go ahead. This is going to be the place where we document what we did and how it's all working out.

Stay tuned ... and write when you can.