World Cup June


Yes, it’s that quadrennial celebration when every screen is set to shades of green as football dominates and disrupts the embedded drinking patterns of all.

However, before the football madness began, there was plenty of time for a little nature and some wild spaces to be indulged.

It is often a two-fleece job whenever a visit to Yorkshire is planned so we were very lucky to plunder three excellent sunny days for ourselves in Bridlington.

A minor sea fishing port with a working harbour, Bridlington is a great base from which to explore the wild and not-so-windy-this-time recesses of Yorkshire.

Fairburn Ings was well worth dipping into on the way up from Brum. The word ‘ings’ is of Old Norse origin meaning ‘damp or marshy land that floods’ so that gives you an idea of this nature reserve – plenty of flood meadows, fenland, some reedbeds and a fair chunk of woodland. The Ings got the weekend off to a fine start with stunners such as Hobby, Black-necked Grebe, nesting Spoonbills and a Cuckoo.

There was also a collection of Cuckoo Wasps, scribbling their way around an old dead tree. These were Ruby-tailed Wasps or Jewel Wasps – common monikers for what are formally known as Cuckoo Wasps which, like their avian namesake, plunder the nests of other species. The resulting larvae eat the egg or larvae of the host – not the sort of guests you want to invite over for cocktails.


From Bridlington, it is a short zip up to the awe-inspiring Bempton Cliffs, a veritable seabird city with Gannets and Guillemots galore, neat little Razorbills and Kittiwakes, whirling Fulmars, and everyone’s favourite, Puffins – all thumbed tightly into dizzy notches and nicks on the towering chalk cliff faces.


There are excellent viewing platforms arranged along the cliffs at various points for some of the most spectacular seabird viewing in the country. Nearly half a million seabirds don’t know the meaning of the word ‘quiet.’





Razorbills and Puffin




Razorbill and Guillimot

The hypnotic sight (and smell) of the various colonies, with additional gulls and jackdaws is mesmerising at times, a bit like watching the sea – until you realise you are actually watching the sea as well.


Even more senses can be overloaded with a stirring yomp over the cliffs to Flamborough Head for more of the same.







Tophill Low was a surprisingly good find over the weekend. Tucked away off one of the main roads, this reserve is an active Yorkshire Water Treatment Works built in 1959. It opened its doors as a Nature Reserve in 1993 and features several hides spread across two main reservoirs that flank the River Hull.

The two reservoirs – ‘D’ and ‘O’ dominate an area peppered with substantial marshes, ponds, woodlands and grasslands.

A Great-spotted Woodpecker was a great spot from the first hide, as were the Yellow Wagtails, but the most memorable sighting of the day were the Marsh Frogs.

These are large non-native species, frog-marching their way up the country from Romney Marshes. It was their incredible booming croak – they are also known as the Laughing Frog – that was difficult to pin down at first. A couple of male frogs were soon spied, rattling their sabres at each other across a small pond.

Here’s a little clip from YouTube so you can appreciate the crazy volume of these amphibians (filmed by Anna Benson Gyles):

…And here’s a froggy cartoon from the Crow Collection – a best seller in its day:


Blacktoft Sands is another great little reserve on the Humber estuary, and one we often visit when up in Yorkshire. The vast tidal reedbed is the largest in England, a haven for many species of wildlife, and it wasn’t long before some lofty Marsh Harriers heaved themselves into the air and began scanning the reeds for snacks. We once saw a harrier take a gull chick from its nest at this reserve so were hopeful of a replay but nothing doing.

Blacktoft Sands also has saline lagoons, which are rare in Europe and provide an ideal habitat for a variety of leggy wading birds including the ever-elegant Avocets.



There were more leggy shenanigans later in the month when the fell-walking crew took to the Staffordshire Moorlands for a brisk circuit.

Fortunately, Adrian L was on board to provide his inexhaustible commentary:

Start at Hulme End, Staffordshire Moorlands

Location: Grid Ref: SK 1062 5927

From the car park, we walk for a mile along the route of the railway. Then go up Ecton Hill. Information points on way up about the mining that has occurred there since the Neolithic ages. 

Nice views. Then we come down Ecton Hill and through a bit of a gorge (Wetton Mill). Nice views. Then we go up another hill. Nice views. Then we go down the hill. Nice views. Then we walk along the Hoo Brook for a while until we get to Butterton, which is on the side of a hill. Then we go to the Black Lion Inn on top of that hill. The pub does not mind dogs coming in. It’s the owners they sometimes have an issue with and may get ordered out. After the pub, we go down the other side of the hill. Nice views. Then we go up another hill. Nice views. Eventually reaching Revidge Moor – nice views. Then we go off that hill back to the car park.     

Some of you have not been happy in the past about not being told if there is any mud. If there has been rain do not be surprised if there is mud. That usually happens when it rains.  

Cheers, Adrian, for a very singular take on this month’s wanderings.



Heather Watson Wellies It

In between various World Cup kick-offs, there was a series of supporting events to enjoy:

The Nature Valley Classic at the Edgbaston Priory Club – for a long time an annual event for us – again shocked with the lack of rain – that’s two years running now.


Pat Cash gets to meet Steve P


Steve P took his first ever selfie with tennis idol, Pat Cash, and the scene was set for some seemly sets. Here was the order of play and results:

Elina Svitolina beat Donna Vekic  6-1, 3-6, 6-1

Lesia Tsurenko beat Heather Watson  7-6, 7-5

Petra Kvitova beat Johanna Konta  6-3, 6-4

Garbine Muguruza beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova  6-1, 6-2


This seems just the place to serve up another silly toon:



The novel Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks was one of the must-read books of the last ten years. The Alexandra Theatre was showing the critically acclaimed stage show based on the novel, which was well worth trundling along to.


Here’s Stephanie Balloo’s edited review of it for the Birmingham Mail:

With the centenary of the First World War drawing to a close this year, it seems fitting to stage a heart-wrenching tale of courage, anguish, duty, passion and love.

An adaptation of the book of the same title, doing justice to Sebastian Faulks’ beautifully visceral prose was bound to prove challenging.

It kicks off with an introduction to a peculiar, stern-faced Lieutenant Wraysford – played by Tom Kay – as he leads a team of fathers, husbands, sons through the trenches, tunnels and brutality of war. Tim Treloar as loveable cockney ‘sewer rat’, Jack Firebrace steals the show.

It is only as Wraysford lies seriously injured in a field – deliriously clinging to memories of all he holds dear – that the details of his perilous affair with the beautiful Isabelle Azaire emerge.

This is how we see the characters of Amiens, France – in abrupt flashes dotted throughout the incredibly powerful performance.

Breath-taking scenes of adulterous passion are effortlessly intertwined with the heartbreak of war – with the cast hurrying between each other as Stephen dips in and out of consciousness and daydreams.

It comes as no surprise as Faulks himself approved of the script – all the vital standout moments within the novel were accurate, intense and emotive – just as they should be.


Then it was off to the critically acclaimed Ivy restaurant for dinner to round off the weekend…



That’s not the Ivy – that’s The Botanist…


Goodbye July


The Malverns

A fairly quiet month hardly deserving of a post so its going to be mainly filler and not killer this time!

In between bouts of drinking and watching the cultural twin peaks of Wonder Woman, and Spiderman: The Homecoming, there was a nevertheless an excellent walk to record.

This one took in patches of the Forest of Dean, views of the Malvern Hills, and a Roast Beef Ploughman’s at the Glasshouse.

It was Stuart’s walk and here’s the gen:

Map: Explorer sheet OL14 Wye Valley & Forest of Dean

GR: SO721260.

The walk:

The walk is mainly along field paths, through woods, and along quiet country lanes.

Go west from the car park in the market town of Newent, across playing fields then SW to Briery Hill. Follow Three Choirs Way southwards to Clifford’s Mesne, continuing along quiet lanes past the now closed Yew Tree Inn to ascend a long but not difficult climb to summit of May Hill (977 ft).



There are breath-taking views to Malvern Hills, Black Mountains, and the Severn Estuary (let’s hope for good weather). From the summit continue along Geopark/Wysis Way SE then NE to Glasshouse for lunch at The Glasshouse Inn.

Dogs are not allowed in the pub but there are pleasant gardens.


After lunch we head northwards through the pleasant but occasionally muddy Newent Woods, and then past apple orchards to return to the cars.


1930s Poet Laureate John Masefield describes May Hill in his narrative poem “The Everlasting Mercy.”

It’s about a fist fight with a fellow poacher over territory with the main protagonist called Saul Kane with some Christian/Satan overtones and implications.

Its way too long to reproduce here so here’s some of the more memorable verses. It’s worth reading just to roll out the fantastic names of two of the peripheral characters: Doxy Jane and Dicky Twot!

Ploughing the hill with steady yoke
Of pine-trees lightning-struck and broke.
I’ve marked the May Hill ploughman stay
There on his hill, day after day
Driving his team against the sky,
While men and women live and die.
And now and then he seems to stoop
To clear the coulter with the scoop,
Or touch an ox to haw or gee
While Severn stream goes out to sea

and this bit’s quite good:

“Where is it, then? O stop the bell.”
I stopped and called: “It’s fire of hell;
And this is Sodom and Gomorrah,
And now I’ll burn you up, begorra.”

as is this:

“After him,” “Catch him,” “Out him,” ” Scrob him.”
“We’ll give him hell.” “By God, we’ll mob him.”
“We’ll duck him, scrout him, flog him, fratch him.”
“All right,” I said. “But first you’ll catch him.”


They drove (a dodge that never fails)
A pin beneath my finger nails.
They poured what seemed a running beck
Of cold spring water down my neck;
Jim with a lancet quick as flies
Lowered the swelling round my eyes.
They sluiced my legs and fanned my face
Through all that blessed minute’s grace;
They gave my calves a thorough kneading,
They salved my cuts and stopped the bleeding.
A gulp of liquor dulled the pain,
And then the flasks clinked again.

This last bit was after the Boxing Day Sales at Selfridges…

Speaking of which: This was taken at the Green Man in Harborne on July 24th – WAY TOO EARLY!!!




Sometimes, when you’re feeling a bit peckish, only a Seafood Fujiyakko will do, and fortunately one was at hand for our footy A-Team social at the Miyako Teppanyaki restaurant .

Kraaled around a Japanese teppan grill (with live cooking and loose egg throwing), an entertaining evening was in store with salmon, lobster and scallops being fired up on the Barbie. Of course, we had to have some traditional Japanese ale to help us along.





Gavin failed to catch the egg in his mouth

A visit to the Falconry Experience in Swadlincote ensured a surfeit of raptors for our appreciation. For the first section there was a selection of owls including Little Owl, Barn Owl and Eagle Owl before the falcons, hawks and eagles took centre stage. The Kestrel, Harris Hawk, Buzzard and Tawny Eagle were all mightily impressive but even a guest appearance from a Kookaburra couldn’t diminish the star of the show – a Golden Eagle.

The talons on this eagle are impressive enough – then you learn they have a gripping strength of over 700 psi, which is up there with me hanging onto a Topic (the average person has a grip strength of about 20 psi.)


Check out the talons…


Nature Note: Raptor comes from the Latin word “rapere” which means to seize by force.



And finally, this cartoon from the Crow Collection – I always liked this one but it never sold particularly well. I just like the silliness of it…

glacier copy


“April is the Cruellest Month”


Showing at the Birmingham Rep: One Love – The Bob Marley Musical, a celebration of the rare man’s music legacy as well as dipping into more turbulent aspects of his life.

If you like this sort of thing, then it’s impossible not to enjoy such a buoyant festival of reggae and song, nicely crafted as it was alongside a few more of Bob’s colourful life episodes. The finale was a surprising mash-up of cast and audience getting down and jammin’

Here’s Lyn Gardner’s edited review from the Guardian.

Clearly made with love by writer and director Kwame Kwei-Armah, and received in the same spirit by a Birmingham audience, this musical inspired by the life and times of Jamaican musician Bob Marley may not be great theatre, but it’s undoubtedly a great night out.

That’s as much to do with the infectious pleasure of an audience hearing Marley’s many hits impressively delivered by Mitchell Brunings and a terrific band as it is with the show itself. In the programme, Kwei-Armah says that he wanted to avoid “sing-a-long-a-Bob”, but if that’s what he finally delivers in a clever final framing which casts us as the audience at the One Love peace concert in Kingston in 1978, during which Marley brought Jamaica’s warring political factions and gang leaders together, there is nothing to apologise for. Has there been a bio-musical that has sent an audience out of the theatre on quite such a high?

But while it’s satisfying musically, it’s often less sustaining dramatically. Marley deals with disputes within his band, embraces Rastafarianism and becomes a local hero in dangerous times. He was the target of an assassination attempt just before he was due to headline a free concert for the Jamaican people in December 1976.

He holes up in London, where he behaves like a womanising whiner while letting his music do the talking as he makes the album Exodus. The show loses focus and doesn’t always find a way to use the songs theatrically: Waiting in Vain/No Woman No Cry delivered as a duet between Marley and his betrayed wife, Rita (an excellent Alexia Khadime), is a rare exception.

If Brunings can’t ever quite flesh out the man, he always gives voice to Marley’s songs in a way that reminds us of a mighty talent whose music still speaks across the world, even if its creator remains stubbornly elusive.




Pre-Bob Snack before hitting the Rep


Not far from the Rep is the Crescent Theatre, which offered some prime fare in the shape of Not About Heroes, an engaging piece about the uneasy friendship between poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, as they convalesced at the Craiglockhart War Hospital.


Some brilliant performances from Andrew Smith as a haughty but playful Sassoon, and George Bandy striking a more provincial pose with Owen.

Here’s a great review from the Little Miss Horton blog (edited a little bit): http://www.littlemisshortonblog.wordpress.com

Dulce et decorum est/Pro patria mori, penned Wilfred Owen, ‘It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.’ Or is it?

The set, created by Dan O’Neil and Keith Harris, used a sombre backdrop of silhouetted barricades merging with the harsh red sky, a constant reminder of the bloody and violent fighting in France.

Not About Heroes, is a contemporary tragedy about the two greatest war poets of World War One: Wilfred Owen who died and Siegfried Sassoon who didn’t. Stephen Macdonald’s play details the friendship between them, when they meet at a military hospital in Scotland. Told through the medium of letters and poetry, the play paints a gruesome yet sincere picture of war.

Andrew Smith embodied the poet, Siegfried Sassoon; encompassing the pacifist, the lover of golf, the broken soldier and the grief-stricken friend all at once. His easy portrayal of the character grabbed me hook, line and sinker into the tragic story line.

As Wilfred Owen, George Bandy gives a thoughtful portrayal of the war poet. The progression of Owens’ character from the ‘coward’, to the man willing to go back to the front line was done masterfully.

George Bandy, whom I spoke to after the show, spoke on great length about his role, saying: ‘This was probably the most daunting project that I have undertaken. There is nothing quite like being on stage consistently for two hours, without an ensemble to back you up, but working with Andrew I could not have felt safer. Playing Wilfred Owen has been a challenge like no other, but I would not give it up for the world. I can only hope, to have done him justice.’

And I believe they have done a great justice for their stories.

Wilfred Owen’s Draft Preface:

This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.

Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War.

Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.

My subject is War, and the pity of War.

The Poetry is in the pity.


The Flat Disc Society’s monthly offering was Wasteland, an Oscar-nominated documentary about rubbish, which was anything but. Jardim Gramacho is the world’s largest landfill, on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. It follows the artist Vik Muniz as he creates portraits of the workers used from materials scavenged from the tip.

The title is a nod to TS Eliot’s poem The Wasteland so here’s the first verse seeing as we’ve a poetry thing happening this post. Spookily, it also tips a wink to this month’s blog title so I’m really going for it:

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

According to Eliot, who wrote these famous opening lines to “The Waste Land,” April is a bastard because it leaves you hoping and wishing that spring would come, but it never really closes the deal. It is a time of year when everyone’s sick of winter and wants the light and warmth again. April usually delivers a few sunny days just to tease us and then it pisses down the rest of the month, and the whole thing’s a big disappointment. It’s a bit like watching Aston Villa.

As usual, there were also a little short features to get us settled into the rubbish theme – British Transport Films: I am a Litter Basket, a quirky educational offering, and Isle of Flowers, a documentary following the fate of a spoiled tomato – that is, a squelchy tomato discarded by a middle-class housewife, not a tomato that is given too much pocket money.


The annual birding visit to Devon came at the end of this busy first week – a few long, sunny days by the sea – the hottest so far of the year.

Before checking in, it was necessary – nay, essential – to saunter around Exminster Marshes to the Turf, a handily placed pub on the estuary where any obligatory twitching can be undertaken on the water’s edge with a pint or two of Avocet Ale.

Staying at our favourite haunt, the Langstone Cliff Hotel, in Dawlish Warren meant we were handily placed for several forays out into the Devonshire countryside. The splendid weather lasted as we checked out Berry Head (nice Ring Ouzel in the quarry), Labrador Bay (Cirl Buntings looking good against the red-turned earth), Dawlish Warren (stunning Cornish Pasty with an early migrant Magnum to follow).



Sticking to the pattern of previous years, it was onto Bowling Green Marsh the next day, with Woodbury Common for Dartford Warblers in the afternoon. These birds are chirpy little things that only ever surface above the gorse when you’re looking the other way. A Stoat bounded across the path on the way up to a stand of pine, and Stonechats and a Wheatear kept us entertained between Dartfords.




Pete and I stayed an extra day, which meant we could indulge in a bit of Somerset on the way back to Brum.

Visiting the reed-laden expanses of Shapwick Fen and Ham Wall turned up a Bittern, as well as the now regular sightings of Great White Egrets. A Mink swam across one of the pools, causing widespread panic amongst the ducks and grebes. I’d not seen such wholesale panic since the English fled Mel Gibson in whatever movie he made last.


Managed to get some footy in – the mighty Halesowen were taking on plucky Sutton Coldfield Town in a relegation battle. It only took several hours after the match finished to realise that it was, in fact, Sutton who had won 1-0 and not Halesowen (they also play in blue…)


The month was book-ended with another birding sortie – this time to Cambridgeshire. Not the greatest in terms of spotting stuff but two great locations visited.

First up was a stroll through Fowlmere Nature Reserve. Natural chalk springs bubble up and feed the pools and reedbeds, which are surrounded with hawthorn scrub and crack willow. Not a great deal of birds around but plenty of butterflies such as Orange Tip and Brimstone.


And finally onto Paxton Pits, an area of active and disused gravel pits, but also a haven of lakes, meadow, scrub, grassland and woodland. Usually packed with wildlife, especially birds. There were plenty of Cormorants and Tufted Ducks, no small amount of pigeons either, and finches and tits but no sign of Nightingales or Turtle Doves this time. Kestrels and Buzzards provided the raptor element, as did a lone, hunting Sparrowhawk but it was the Hobby that took all plaudits with its scything falcon flights over water to grasp luckless dragonflies.


February Fun and Frollix


After the quiet but very enjoyable heralding-in of 2017, there’s nothing quite like an Anthrax gig to open February.

The heavy metal/thrash band was in Brum at the Birmingham Institute and supported by equally impressive The Raven Age.

The Raven Age, an English metalcore band, provided a brilliant opening for Anthrax to follow with some scintillating guitar-shredding and bang-on drumming fronted by some dead-good vocal gymnastics (I’m awaiting a call from Classic Rock magazine anytime soon to review stuff).

Here’s some YouTube of The Raven Age:

…and here’s a musical cartoon from the Crow Collection:

ralphAnthrax were on form with a blistering set, as befitting a band whose reputation is already cemented in the big four quartet alongside Metallica, Megadeth and The Dooleys (actually, that last one may be Slayer).

Here’s an edited review from http://www.metalwani.com by Jack Toresen.

On February 9, 2017, I traveled the short distance to Birmingham to see Anthrax celebrate the 30th anniversary of their classic 1987 studio album ‘Among the Living’. The support act for the tour was The Raven Age, a melodic metal band featuring guitarist George Harris, the son of Iron Maiden founding member and primary songwriter Steve Harris.

The Raven Age audience enthusiasm and participation definitely started off relatively minimal and grew continuously as their set went on. However, for an opening band I feel that The Raven Age did an admirable job of warming the crowd up for what was to come, although in circumstances such as these it is difficult when you’re playing before a classic 1980s thrash band.

Anthrax performed a variety of tracks that included “Madhouse”, “Evil Twin” and “Fight ‘Em ‘Till You Can’t”. “Among the Living” came next – the title track followed directly by “Caught in a Mosh” which is one of the best 10 minutes of live music I think I’ve seen in a long time, played to a room of people who knew every word to every song.

Just under two hours flies by when the band’s technical prowess as musicians as well as their undeniable enthusiasm as musical performers draws you in.

To conclude, Anthrax’s performance at the Birmingham Institute was very, very good. The Raven Age was a welcome opener, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again with Iron Maiden.

It was so good to see that they got the recognition they deserved on that night. If you’re seeing Anthrax this year, and especially on this tour, you’re in for a treat.



Anthrax proved to be a gentler emotional interlude than going to see Birmingham City beat Fulham 1-0 as part of Dave’s ongoing 50th celebrations. Dave was the half-time guest of honour and presented with a signed football shirt and stuff on the pitch. (Never mind Classic Rock – I should be writing for Four Four Two).




For my own more modest birthday celebrations, a crawl around the Jewellery Quarter did the trick, gathering in the Rose Villa Tavern and ending up with a highly-recommended Black Shack Chicken in the Church. That was lunch in a pub, not a sacrifice at the altar…



The February film on offer from the Flat Disc Society’s Film Club was a Swedish teenage lesbian romp, which garnered great reviews from Rotten Tomatoes website with a 90% liking on the Tomatometer and an unusually large club attendance on the night. The Critics Consensus: a naturalistic depiction of teenage life, Show Me Love has a charming, authentic feel.

Here’s the blurb from the Tomatoes: This coming-of-age comedy is set in a sleepy little Swedish town called Åmål — the most boring place on Earth according to adolescent Agnes. Agnes is not able to make friends at school. She’s in love with Elin, but no one knows about it except her computer.

A short film, Talk, preceded the main feature: Birger is old and retired from work. Still, he goes back to work since he has nothing else to do. Back home he gets a rare visitor: a girl from Hare Krishna recruiting new members. But his need for human contact proves to be overwhelming for the girl.

If my Aunt Florrie had called instead with her bible, it would have been a different outcome, you can be sure…


Which left a final weekend for a bit of a ramble in Mamble.

Mamble is a village in Worcestershire in the Malvern Hills district, somewhere between Bewdley and Tenbury Wells. It was also in the lower division of the Doddingtree Hundred – not a football league but a huge slice of land carved up during William the Conqueror’s day and handed to his standard bearer as a reward for bearing his standard during the Norman Conquest.

Nice work, if you can get it – a nice chunk of land for waving a flag.







All penned in

The poet John Drinkwater penned a poem about the village of Mamble, spookingly called Mamble:

I never went to Mamble
that lies above the Teme,
so I wonder who’s in Mamble,
and whether people seem
who breed and brew along there
as lazy as the name,
and whether any song there
sets alehouse wits aflame.

The finger-post say Mamble,
and that is all I know,
of the narrow road to Mamble,
and should I turn to go
to that place of lazy token,
that lies above the Teme,
there might be a Mamble broken
that was lissom in a dream.

So leave the road to Mamble
and take another road
to as good a place as Mamble
be it lazy as a toad;
who travels Worcester County
takes any place that comes,
when April tosses bounty
to the cherries and the plums.

The walk itself was brutally muddy but, in the tradition of all great rambles, it was bracing! Dragging ourselves through mud and sludge, over stiles and across fields, petting ponies and carrying little dogs. We trampled our way through the endearingly entitled little village of Neen Solars which, according to Wikipedia, boasts a phone box!


Gary to the rescue


Liz often needed a good defibrillating


A welcome lunch awaited at the 17th century Sun & Slipper Inn. No song set alehouse wits aflame but the excellent bill of fare had many cooing with delight – slabs of roast beef dinners and salmon steaks stuffed many a gill.




February Frollix


The Dearne Valley was the venue of choice this month, and the WMBC (West Midland Bird Club – keep up!) left Birmingham on a chilly and rainy morning for the Old Moor Nature Reserve.

This reserve is based around several lakes, reed beds and marshes with various trails winding between them.

Not far from Barnsley, Old Moor is impressively well maintained with good facilities for the visitor. Entered through the visitor centre (an old converted farm building) an essential first stop – not counting the café – is the small garden it leads onto.

There was an impressive selection of garden birds ebbing and floing between the feeding stations and the backdrop of bushes and shrubbery – Bullfinches, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows, Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Siskins, plus the usual tits including a Willow Tit. In fact, just about the entire cast from the Ladybird Book of Garden Birds.

There are several hides based on the land cutting through the middle of the main lakes and, as would be expected, there was an equally impressive array of wetland birds on the waters – Goosanders, Widgeon, Teal, Goldeneye, Cormorants and plenty of other ducks, geese, swans and gulls.

Old Moor certainly has enough for a good day’s mooching, and we even copped a Barn Owl just before leaving.

I’m short on photos this month, so here’s another cartoon to lead us onto the cultural bit.



A bit of theatre seldom goes amiss, especially when staging the Green Day musical, American Idiot. Dave, Padge and myself took our seats for an enjoyable performance at The Old Joint Stock Theatre.

The Old Joint Stock was originally designed as a library before becoming the Birmingham Joint Stock Bank. Lloyds Bank then took it over in 1889 – the same year that Birmingham officially became a city.

Making a feature of the original fixtures and fittings, the high windowed dome and massive front windows, the Old Joint Stock has now evolved into a welcoming old pub (it is also a very enthusiastic throwing-out pub when last orders are called).

American Idiot is a stage adaption of Green Day’s Rock Opera, American idiot, and includes all the songs from their landmark album (also spookily called American Idiot).

It was an bustling and energetic show performed by the very creative Old Joint Stock Musical Theatre Company, who probably only need to work on a snappier company title to go with their vibrant mix of dance and music numbers.

Better throw in another ‘toon before the walking photos kick in.

This is one of the early ones from the Crow Collection.


The Film Club – Flat Disc Society’s – offering was a little hairy this month: The Hairdresser’s Husband.

Here’s a brief rundown from entertainment website http://www.avclub.com

As a young boy, the hero in Patrice Leconte’s The Hairdresser’s Husband dashes out to the barbershop at every opportunity, no matter whether his hair is already cropped to a trim quarter-inch. For him, the place carries sensual associations that are endlessly intoxicating, from the subtle aura of shampoo and perfume to the lusty power of the generously endowed women wielding the scissors. One day, he makes an announcement: When he grows up, he aspires to marry a hairdresser. And in spite of his family’s horrified response, he goes on to do exactly that. What better dream than to find the thing that makes you happiest in the world and commit yourself wholly to it?

We don’t know what happened in the decades since childhood, but by the time that barbershop-loving boy has grown up to be played by the charming Jean Rochefort, he’s so certain of what he wants that he proposes to gorgeous barbershop proprietor Anna Galiena the moment he sits in her chair. Remarkably, it only takes a couple more visits for her to accept.

The remainder of The Hairdresser’s Husband is a tribute to the simplicity of their relationship: They enjoy each other’s company. They dance. They make love at every opportunity. The only time they ever fight is over a trivial item in the tabloids, but the sting is enough to keep Rochefort from ensuring it never happens again. If for nothing other than Rochefort’s mesmerizing interpretive-dance sequences, the film succeeds swimmingly.

It was a short and enjoyable little film, much like one of those slim novels where nothing much happens but you carry on reading nevertheless as it’s just a pleasant little diversion. As diversions go, it went well.

There was also another short feature of a hairy persuasion – Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience: Hairdresser.

The stand-up comedian goes straight from the stage to the hair and beauty salon, trying out spray tans and bob cuts along the way. Quite funny but Rhod should concentrate on his roots.


ER Hughes, Night with her train of Stars, 1912 (Birmingham Museums).


I just managed to catch the latest exhibition at the Gas Hall before it finished on Sunday.

Enchanted Dreams was the first ever exhibition dedicated to ER Hughes, a lesser-known light of the famous Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

The art of Edward Robert Hughes has been largely overlooked compared to his rakish familiars, and the exhibition brought together various strands of his oeuvre (basically: his work – one is allowed certain pretensions when discussing culture) with the red chalk drawings equally as compelling as the more familiar watercolour pieces.

Birmingham is world famous for its collection of Pre-Raphaelite works, and one of its most popular paintings is by ER: Night with her Train of Stars. I also liked the slightly less mystical rotting corpse in a ditch – ‘Oh, What’s That in the Hollow…?’), The Valkyrie’s Vigil, and a sort of hippy minstrel with piercing blue eyes – Blondel’s Quest.


ER Hughes, ‘Oh, What’s That in the Hollow…?,’ 1893 (Royal Watercolour Society).




Night with her Train of Stars was inspired by this poem by William Ernest Henley who was musing on death (as you do) and likening it to a damn good sleep.

Margaritae Sorori

A LATE lark twitters from the quiet skies:
And from the west,
Where the sun, his day’s work ended,
Lingers as in content,
There falls on the old, gray city
An influence luminous and serene,
A shining peace.

The smoke ascends
In a rosy-and-golden haze. The spires
Shine and are changed. In the valley
Shadows rise. The lark sings on. The sun,
Closing his benediction,
Sinks, and the darkening air
Thrills with a sense of the triumphing night–
Night with her train of stars
And her great gift of sleep.

So be my passing!
My task accomplish’d and the long day done,
My wages taken, and in my heart
Some late lark singing,
Let me be gather’d to the quiet west,
The sundown splendid and serene,

Poem alert: Henley also penned the oft-quoted Invictus – you know, captain of my soul and all that.


I thought an appropriate photo from Haselour Church would link the Henley poem to our latest walk.


Stuart led the line with this jaunty little romp across the Warwick shire from the charmingly clichéd market town of Alcester


Location gumpf: GR: SP088572. Postcode for SatNav: B49 5BA.

Head south through Oversley Green to cross A46. Pass Oversley Wood and head north passing through Exhall to recross A46 to Haselour (walking past the village stocks) and climbing up towards Haselour church for some good views (altitude a dizzy 70 metres).

Descend northwards to cross River Alne for lunch in Great Alne at the Mother Huff Cap pub. Good food and beer (the Purity Brewery is a short distance northwards).

After lunch a short road walk northwards before following Arden/Heart of England/Monarchs Way westwards to return to Alcester.

When Stuart pre-walked the route about a fortnight ago some of the fields and minor roads north of Haselour were under water. The recent dry spell flood levels had receded but parts of the walk were very muddy. It was!


Trev just couldn’t put it down


Yes, it actually was the library



Haselour Church


The long and winding path



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!)


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.


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.





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 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.



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…



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!).


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:


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.





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.



Great White Egret (trying to hide…)