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JC Marching On…

I spent the morning making a belt out of herbs – what a waste of thyme.

It’s my blog – I’m allowed to be silly…

As there’s a distinct lack of cartoons in this blog, I thought I’d upload this little offering from the Crow Collection – a budding greeting card business that my brother Paul and I dipped into a good few years back.

We managed to sell quite a few, and Carlton Cards wanted to buy all 48 designs from us at one time!

More can be still seen on the original website: www.premiercrow.com (if you can be bothered!)

Woody

The annual visit to the Forest of Dean has once again heralded my favourite part of the calendar year – which is basically spring, summer and a fair to middling bit of autumn. Not that I hate winter, you understand – its just the dark!

First start of the day was at the village of Parkend for a bunch of Hawfinches (I don’t think that’s the official collective noun). These are our largest finches – heavy-billed and sporting a nice line in beige and brown. However, they are anything but dowdy, and there were several sightings along the tops of the tall trees, which provided a solid ornithological opener for the rest of the day.

We soon repaired to the nearby Fountain Inn – not for an early pint but to check out the stream that flowed at the back of it for any unsuspecting dippers or wagtails.

Bumped into Gary Prescott -the Biking Birder who, apart from cycling around every RSPB reserve in the UK for charity, was also it good spirits after Aston Villa’s recent victories over West Bromwich Albion in the league and cup.

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A happy bunch of birders And why not, the Birmingham Branch March meeting to the Forest of Dean produced displaying Goshawk and plenty of other good birds including Hawfinch. Photo courtesy of Gary Prescott the ‘Biking Birder’ thanks Gary!

 

Trundled on over to Cannop Ponds where fine drizzle accompanied our walk around the pools.

 

Cormorant

Cormorant

 

Stopped for a dead yummy Cornish Pasty (my muse is, once again, on fire) at Beechenhurst before scoring several distant Goshawks at New Fancy View.

The Ravens, with the odd Siskin and Buzzard, also put on a good show.

 

Nuthatch

Nuthatch and ring-pull…

 

Last year, Crabtree Hill had given us the Great Grey Shrike, and this scratchy little arena was not found wanting this year either with splendid views of this fierce little bird, which had overwintered once again. The shrike twice launched itself down into the heather to snack on unsuspecting lizards.

 

Shrike

Great Grey Shrike snacking on lizard (probably unsuspectedly).

 

The herd of startled Fallow Deer that scooted up out the trees were probably just out of its dietary range.

 

Now for an impromptu interlude – this thought-provoking gem from Douglas Adams who was born this month in 1952 but tragically died aged only 49.

Puddle Theory is the term coined by Douglas Adams to satirise arguments that the Universe was made for man. From The Salmon of Doubt:

Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, may have been made to have me in it!” This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for. We all know that at some point in the future the Universe will come to an end and at some other point, considerably in advance from that but still not immediately pressing, the sun will explode. We feel there’s plenty of time to worry about that, but on the other hand that’s a very dangerous thing to say.

I’ve not actually read this book yet – I’ll put it on the pending pile. I’ve just finished Jane Eyre (that girl needs to get a grip) as well as Jane Elizabeth Howard’s biography Slipstream, and Pat Barker’s Toby’s Room – all well recommended.

I wonder if I need to introduce a Book Club element in this blog…!

 

The following weekend saw the Fell-Walking Club venture into Shropshire.

Here’s recently retired Paul Hands with all the gumpf:

Brown Clee Hill

Start & Parking: Laneside verge at Cockshutford GR 572 850 OS map: Explorer 217

Getting there:

B4364 Bridgnorth – Ludlow road. Go through Cleobury North & Burwarton, approximately 1 mile past the Three Horseshoes pub turn right, signposted Stoke St. Milborough & Clee St. Margaret. Pass through Stoke St. Milborough and drop down to Clee St Margaret swinging right in the village. Continue to a crossroads and turn right. Parking is on the right by a gate. Allow a little extra time to get along these lanes. They are not meant for speed!

The walk:-

On a good day, this walk has views to match anything in the Midlands. It`s possible to see as far as Cader Idris. Buzzards are plentiful and although the tops have signs of industrial scarring from a bygone century, the countryside is lovely and unspoiled. The main climb is at the beginning.

The route:-

From the start we climb up to Nordy Bank (an iron age fort) then up onto Brown Clee Hill. If it`s a nice day we could, if we want, take in both tops, Clee Burf & Abdon Burf. If not we`ll go directly to the dip between the tops, Burwarton Pole. From here via bridle paths then footpaths S on the east side of the hill via Old Lodge Farm to the main road and Three Horseshoes pub for lunch. After the pub, we follow the road for a short stretch before picking up the Shropshire Way NW then N to a small lane. Walk left along the lane for a short stretch then NW along a bridle path to Nordy Bank and the cars. There are some sections along the bridle paths that are quite muddy.

Cheers Paul!

 

As usual, we celebrated St Patrick’s Day in conjunction with Dad’s birthday…

I think that people who shorten their name to Pat are missing a trick!

 

The Flat Earth’s film for the month was Yellow Sky, a western from 1948 starring Gregory Peck, propped up as it was by a little animated short of Shakespeare’s Tempest on which the film is loosely based.

Here’s a review by DVDtalk.com:

Set in the Wild West following the Civil War, the picture stars Gregory Peck as Stretch, the leader of a gang of outlaws who must beat a hasty retreat after robbing a small-town bank. After one of the group is shot and killed by pursuing lawmen, Stretch directs his remaining five men to pass through California’s Death Valley. It is a brutal trek, so much so that one of the men regrets his having filled his canteen with whiskey instead of water. Then the men — battered by the unsparing sun and nearly dying of thirst — finally come to a ghost town at the edge of the desert.

The town has two inhabitants: a tomboyish young woman who goes by the nickname “Mike” and her grandfather. The bandits discover that the old man is a prospector, and that he is holding on to a fortune in gold in hopes of someday reviving the town and providing a future for his granddaughter.

The thieves plan to rob the old man. Dude (Richard Widmark) is particularly hungry for the gold, and he bristles when Stretch suggests that the men only steal a portion of the loot. Stretch, you see, is more interested in other booty, having fallen for feisty Mike.

Perhaps Stretch and Mike are attracted to one another’s wooden performances. Both Peck and Baxter boast palpable screen presence, but let’s be honest; neither one was ever much of an actor. At any rate, Stretch is an outlaw with a curious streak of integrity — but with Gregory Peck, what else would you expect?

Neither Peck nor Baxter diminishes the power of this dark, atmospheric and consistently compelling picture.

The music score is fine, but smartly lets most of this bare-boned story unfold without music. With the sole exception of a goofy coda that ends the film — undoubtedly a concession to the moguls of 20th Century Fox at the time — Yellow Sky hits all the right notes.

Here’s a review by me:

Enjoyed it mightily!

…although, it has to be said, there is the questionable lionising of one of the dodgy main characters – something akin to the portrayal of Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre. This is in so far as Rochester is a bully and ingrate and a bit of a twat but nevertheless conjures unremitting adoration in Jane Eyre – stupid girl! Gregory Peck’s character evolves into a noble, worthy maverick but – and this is the clincher – he was still after a load of gold, which didn’t belong to him!

 

At the weekend, popped along to the Art from Elsewhere exhibition at the Waterhall Gallery. Showcasing international artists from other galleries and museums. It was a little too contemporary for my vapid taste with only a couple of pieces standing out amid the collected themes of global change, post-colonial experiences and failed utopias (guess who read the leaflet?)

 

Lots more Irish stuff to celebrate this month with Steve and I attending the Celtic Punk Invasion Tour at the 02 Academy starring the Dropkick Murphys, ably supported by the Mahones, and Blood or Whiskey, which managed to condense a raucous drunken night in an Irish pub into a rollicking great concert. The six pints of Tuborg obviously helped…

 

EVEN MORE NATURE NOTES WARNING!

The last weekend of the month saw us heading off for our annual stint in Devon with the Bird Club.

We stayed as usual at the Best Western Passage Hotel at Kingsteignton, with the weather proving to be generally grotty with grey days of drizzle and strong winds.

It did not stop us venturing to Berry Head but perhaps it should have. Fortunately, the café provided a safe haven from the elements…although a few of us managed to explore the quarry at the base of the headland.

After a brief recce of wet and windy Broadsands, we finally fetched up at Dawlish Warren.

A few highlights: a pair of peregrines on the mud flats where they had taken a pigeon (not on a date, obviously, that would be silly). A few crows encroached on the feeding falcons but as soon as the one of the peregrines took off for a probable killing stoop, they soon realised the raptor meant business and legged it.

There was also the mysterious case of the severed bird’s head washed up on the shore. Plenty of discussion followed as to whether it was a merganser’s noggin or a guillemot’s (it was a guillemot’s!).

Head

Guillemot noggin

 

Next day and a drive over to Darts Farm provided us with great views of the suggestively named Penduline Tit – a pair of which worked the reed mace around the small pool on the reserve.

These birds are infrequent visitors to these shores and deserve a picture to show what bonny birds they are:

Penduline

We watched them for ages – it had taken a while to find them such was their colouring, which blended so well with the reeds. Then a short drive took us to Bowling Green Marshes, and a bracing walk around this tidy little reserve. A suitable scouring of the Exe Estuary turned up little of interest, so we finally tracked over to Exmouth for an overnight stay.

 

Buzzard

Buzzard

 

Despite quaffing several beers in the local hostelries, we weren’t too fuzzy in the morning so it was off to Aylesbere Common – an impressive stretch of heathland fringed with woodland. It is always enjoyable to yomp through such a landscape, and we managed to see the elusive Dartford Warblers, plus colourful Stonechats and a Yellowhammer. Such sights were matched at our final destinations in Somerset – Ham Wall and Shapwick Fen – with Great White Egret showing well, with nice cameos from Kingfisher, Marsh Harrier and Sparrowhawk adding a little extra gloss.

 

GreatWE

Great White Egret (trying to hide…)

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JC’s February Forays

Monty Python’s Spamalot was showing at the Alexandra Theatre with the curious casting of Joe Pasquale in the lead role of King Arthur, and Todd Carty providing side-kick duties.

It was a lot better than I expected even though I did actually expect to enjoy it!

Here’s Roz Law’s take on the show for the Birmingham Mail – plus a couple of their photos:

You know you’re watching a daft show when Joe Pasquale, that squeaky-voiced veteran of nonsense, is the one saying: “Stop that, it’s silly.”

This is a delightfully daffy show, with all the inanity of a Monty Python production, complete with fish-slapping and men dressed as women.

The latest production looks sparkly and new with a fresh set of colourful costumes and sets.

The very funny script is updated too, with topical references to the likes of Mary Berry, Prince Andrew and Katie Hopkins and some local names thrown in.

When God (Eric Idle) tells King Arthur that his quest is for the Holy Grail, he replies: “Have you tried the Bullring?”

Laughs come thick and fast in the plague-ridden 10th century. Pasquale is great as Arthur, even funnier when corpsing and ad-libbing, panto-style.

I love the faces that Todd Carty pulls as his faithful manservant Patsy, very adept with the coconuts and proving to be a nifty singer and dancer.

The routines to Camelot and Always Look on the Bright Side of Life are very jolly. Great moments of high camp.

When the Lady of the Lake (Sarah Earnshaw) performs the X Factor-like Find Your Grail, she really makes it her own.

The rest of the cast are highly amusing too, especially Richard Kent as Prince Herbert and Richard Meek as his father, who is also hilarious as Sir Galahad and the Black ‘it’s just a flesh wound’ Knight.

Spamalot is a real tonic!spam

Prof Brian Cox to play God in Spamalot

The only jaunt out during this month was to Potteric Carr in Yorkshire with the WMBC. This was due – not in part, but totally because of – an injured foot. I spent most of February limping around like a limpy thing (I‘m in a particularly descriptive mood today).

Potteric Carr is a reserve just south of Doncaster, right next to the motorway exit. It’s a well-managed mixture of habitats – open water and marshland, plenty of reed fens and oodles of wet woodland and scrub.

We had our best sighting of bittern here a couple of years ago and, although no such luck this time, we made do with good views of Kingfisher and Pintail amongst other watery bird-type things (told you I was on fire!)

Pete took the photos and I shamelessly Photo-shopped the best kingfisher image onto the best background.

Kingfisher

Pintail

Although my dodgy foot meant there was little in the way of walking this month, I could still hobble manfully to the odd pub or two. Here are some great photos of a night out at the Shakespeare courtesy of some quirky beermats Dave bought for my birthday.

Ade

Dave

Padge

Padge2

Shakey