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Attuned to June

Mercury

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National Trust, Waddesdon Manor / John Bigelow Taylor

Waddesdon Manor was the venue for our annual Staff Social day out. This plush country house in Buckinghamshire is the ancestral seat of those bankers, the Rothschilds. Built in the Neo-Renaissance style of a French chateau by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, it came in very handy for entertaining house parties and for showing off his fine collections of art.

Baron Ferdy originally bought it as a farming estate from the Duke of Marlborough (thanks to a hefty inheritance from his father) and he set about transforming the site with lavish gardens and an aviary.

The last member of this illustrious family, James de Rothschild, bequeathed the house and its contents to the National Trust and is one of their most visited properties.

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It was the hottest day of the year (Scorchio!) and the food festival was in full swing as our coach set down and set forth the staff. The cider tent was a particular favourite…

Manor

Table

The hot weather continued into the following week, which meant our regular visit to the Aegon Classic did not involve as much scurrying to the beer tent whenever rain threatened.

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Svitolina to serve…

Thus we managed uninterrupted tennis on the first day and enjoyed four decent contests:

Naomi Osaka (Jpn) beat Laura Davis (USA) 6-1, 2-6, 7-6

Barbara Strycova (Cze) beat Yulia Putinteva (Kaz) 6-3, 6-3

Elina Svitolina (Ukr) beat Heather Watson (Gbr) 6-2, 5-7, 6-3

Naomi Broady (Gbr) beat Alize Cornet (Fra) 7-6, 6-0

 

Nature Notes Warning:

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Frampton Marsh The RSPB

Frampton Marsh was to be the venue for the season finale of the West Midland Bird Club.

Frampton is one of many coastal wetland reserves where seeing anything ornithological is merely a bye-the-bye bonus to accompany a brilliant walk. However, high vantage walks look out across the Wash and inland views take in reedbeds, freshwater scrapes and marshy fields. With a new digital camera making its juddering debut, I blurred fairly decent views of Corn Buntings, Avocets, Lapwings, Yellowhammers, Reed and Sedge Warblers and Spotted Redshank – plus a pair of loved-up Spoonbills.

There are some great photos on the official Frampton Marsh website, which I’ve included here plus my own meagre offerings and a classic photo fail!

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer

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Avocet

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Another One

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Spoonbills

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Fail2

Fail

And if we are on the cute chick photos, we cannot fail to show these reed warblers (though they may want to improve on their toilet training!). Photo by Paul Sullivan

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And these photos are by Neil Smith:

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The parents are busy looking after their young. You don’t get more protective than avocets, who chase off things which might want to eat their chicks…

…and those that wouldn’t, but just get a little too close

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June Bug

The Children’s Book wot was written and drawn by me and my brother Paul finally hit the shelves. Were dead excited by it and fink it’ll be dead edukational for kids and stuff.

Here’s the low down from the publisher and link:

http://www.thesanitycompany.co.uk/product.php?id=6

cheetahblurbThemes: Facing up to unwelcome change, help seeking, accepting help, managing adversity, having to wear glasses.

Cheetah runs really, really fast, the trouble is he can’t see what’s in front of him! It takes quite a few mishaps and a friendly bird to help him before Cheetah figures out a way to solve his problem.

 

As documented in the last post, a chunk of the month was spent in Ireland so you’ll need to scroll down for that but let’s see what’s also been happening this month before you hit that slider!

 

There were a few little cultural interludes to cover this miserable, damp month of June.

First up was The Turning to See exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Intending to explore the physical and metaphorical turning in portraiture, the exhibition was arranged around the recently-acquired self-portrait of Anthony van Dyck. The gallery walls were lined with celebrated names from the world of art – Rembrandt, Rossetti and Picasso, as well as some new photo collages by the curator, John Stezaker.

Also on show were the Burne-Jones sketches for the Pygmalion series from Birmingham’s own collection – these are not usually on display as they are too fragile.

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Self-portrait by Anthony van Dyck, c1640 National Portrait Gallery

Also on this month’s cultural roadshow were:

Captain America: Civil War

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X-Men: Apocalypse

Accompanied with a coffee and a fragile (endangered, even) family bag of Minstrels. Verdict: Very enjoyable but maybe Revels would have been better.

 

Tennis

Tennis at Edgbaston this year featured two singles, two doubles and some great hair by Sian.

First up, Madison Keys beat Carla Suarez Navarro: 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, then Barbara Strycova put paid to CoCo Vandeweghe: 3-6, 6-3, 7-6.

In the doubles, V King/A Kudryavtseva beat H Chan/Y Chan: 6-2, 6-1, followed by Babs again partnering K Pliskova in defeating the Brits Naomi Broady and Heather Watson: 6-2, 6-4.

 

Tennis2

Great Hair by Sian

 

Time for a walk and Adrian was leading the next one – a satisfying yomp in the Peak District. The great thing about Adrian’s walks is the detailed description he always sends before the walk, which saves me tarting it up! So here it is with a few photos:

Monyash

Grid reference: SK149665

Post code for Sat Nav: DE45 1JH

In his own words:

Ladies & Gentlemen, Others,

What’O! – This walk starts from Monyash in the heart of the beautiful Peak District. You should know where that is by now, we have been that often you should be able to drive there reading a book like I do. It is cheap costing nothing to park there, and there are some very good walks to be had.

We plan to meet in front of the café on the Village Green near the pub, The Bulls Head.

We have done this walk before. It is very beautiful. From Monyash we go down lovely Lathkilldale to the river. If lucky, the springs will be sprouting on the way down (they weren’t). We then follow this marvelous walk along the river to the edge of Alport where we then cut back to Youlgreave and the pub. At the George Hotel opposite the Church they do pies including a Mint and Lamb Pie, which sounds interesting –  unless you’re vegetarian. The well-dressing should be on as well around the place, and you might get a lovely ice cream as we did last time.

After Youlgreave, we go down for a lovely walk along the river where hopefully there will be some wild life to be seen. Eventually we cross an ancient bridge and have a climb up. Near the top it will be time for:

Den, den, den, der, der, der, der, dena, dena, dena…

This walk’s surprise feature, which should be on your left hand side, is near the top (it was a picnic bench!) Having done the walk before, I was struggling for a surprise feature. Someone suggested me getting a round in at the pub – I said it’s meant to be a surprise feature – not a paranormal event Derek Achorah would want to investigate. Anyway, last time I put my hand in my pocket for a round three people fainted and a fourth had a heart attack, so that’s out. You might have noticed I have changed the music for the surprise feature this time.

After this one and only climb up on the walk, it is then flat or downhill apart from when we cross a small gorge on the way back to Monyash, which we have a short climb out of.

Nothing for the steam-heads, nowt much in the way of archaeology, little in the way of tarmac for Roy; a bit of geology for the rock-heads. But it is a very picturesque, scenic walk all the way through with great river walks and views up top, it really will be worth the effort.

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A recording of a new Radio 2 comedy at the Midland Art Centre was a good way to end the month – a very funny and enjoyable evening watching Janice Connolly & Co put through their paces for Barbara Nice, which should be broadcast in September.

Here’s the blurb:

Barbara gets a radio series!

BBC Radio 2 has announced the commission of a new comedy sitcom series, Barbara Nice, which is to be recorded in Birmingham and Salford this summer.

Due to be recorded in front of a live studio audience, the 4×30 minute series is about a couple with very different ideas on how to spend the golden age of retirement. The pilot programme which was originally broadcast in 2015, will kick off the series, followed by four new episodes.

Set in Stockport, the mum-of-five from Kings Heath is worried she and her husband, Ken, played by John Henshaw, (Cilla, Cradle To Grave), are at risk of adding to the numbers of silver splitters. With Ken recently retired, Barbara is starting to realise they have nothing in common. His idea of retirement involves a marathon session of the daytime television quiz show Pointless, which doesn’t fit with Barbara’s idea of a well-spent golden age.

Janice Connolly says: “The sitcom is about being a certain age, reaching retirement and being in a long-term marriage. Barbara is a big character who is always trying to invent things for her and her husband to do, but invariably it always backfires.

“I am absolutely thrilled to be recording two of the episodes in Birmingham. It’s a great city and I have been proud to be part of the artistic community of Birmingham for many years. The wonderful work that is being produced at Birmingham Rep and the world class facilities at The Hippodrome alongside independent venues like The Hare And Hounds mean that the city is bursting with culture.”

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mrsbarbaranice.co.uk

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March Mutterings

A quote to start – mainly to divert attention away from a lack-lustre month…

“Sobriety diminishes, discriminates and says no; drunkenness expands, unites and says yes.”

William James – The Varieties of Religious Experiences

Foxy

I managed to finish the illustrations for another children’s book this year.

This one’s called Ollie Collie’s Daydream by Hermione Bailey, and above is one of the panels, which won’t make the slightest bit of sense out of context. It’s about a daydreaming collie (they should put that in the title) who has to keep counting his sheep in case Freddie the Fox steals them away.

I already completed the illustrations for George and the New Noise earlier in the year – and pinched the eponymous hero for my Christmas greetings card. Here’s another sampler:

Leglick

So you can see, there wasn’t a great deal going on this month, and I‘m just looking for filler really.

March did actually have much to recommend it but just about everything clashed with everything else. However, when paying £80 (including the insufferable booking fee) for Great Britain’s clash with Japan in the Davis Cup, the tennis obviously held sway.

We saw a mammoth five-hour match between Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori in which the Brit prevailed 7-5 7-6 (8-6) 3-6 4-6 6-3

Special mention to a tremendous atmosphere at the Barclaycard Arena, helped in no small measure by the rousing vocals of the Stirling Uni Barmy Army, who provided a brilliant backdrop to the match.

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Now it’s time for Film Club:

Following on from the Golden Raspberry Awards (Fifty Shades of Grey picked up the most awards including Worst Picture) the Flat Disc Society this month marked the anniversary of the first Golden Raspberry Awards evening (31st March 1981) by screening Robert Greenwald’s musical fantasy Xanadu, one of the two films that inspired the event.

 

It was truly awful – here’s the lowdown from Wiki:

 

A box office flop, Xanadu earned mixed to negative critical reviews and was an inspiration for the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards to memorialize the worst films of the year. Despite the lacklustre performance of the film, the soundtrack album became a huge commercial success around the world, and was certified double platinum in the United States. The song “Magic” was a U.S. number one hit for Newton-John, and the title track (by Newton-John and the Electric Light Orchestra) reached number one in the UK and several other countries around the world.

 

As usual, an unusual short feature was shown first – Rita Heyworth is Stayin’ Alive – a YouTube production.

Xanadu’s plot is inspired by Down to Earth (1947), which starred Rita Heyworth (both Hayworth and Newton-John play the mythological Greek muse Terpsichore).

 

After this, I needed to source a deeper film with lots of killings and blood and slaughter – something rom-comish.

Deadpool was brilliant.

 

 

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Oh June, like the mountains I’m blue…

My friend uses peroxide and does Pilates – she’s firm but fair.

Going to see a great band on the first day of June is always a decent primer for a monthly blog.

Those angry, curmudgeonly types – the Manic Street Preachers – were playing at Wolverhampton Civic Hall.

Their third album, the Holy Bible, was to be performed in homage to its 21st birthday, and Dave managed to get three front row seats on the balcony. So Dave, Gavin and myself settled down with our 2-pint beer glasses for a storming couple of sets.

The Holy Bible, considered their masterpiece by many devotees, is not their most accessible (get me with the Classic Rock-speak) and James Dean Bradfield admitted it was ‘hardly a party record’ before launching into the first track from the album.

As usual, in my own personal homage to several anniversaries of pure idleness, here’s the review of the concert from the Express and Star by Jordan Harris with some of their photos.

 

Review: Manic Street Preachers, Wolverhampton Civic Hall

 

Scissor kicks and riffs. Heartbroken lyrics and leopard print. You can call Manic Street Preachers many things. Unloved is not one of them.

Even now, nearly 30 years after their formation, fans are queuing from early morning to try and nab a place at the front of their shows. And why not? This was not just a regular gig. This was a celebration of perhaps their best-loved record – The Holy Bible. Some 20 (and a bit) years after its release, the album holds a dear place in the heart of Manic supporters, with it being the last record to feature missing guitarist/lyricist Richey Edwards in full.

Does it stand the test of time? Yes. The angst and venom that permeated some of Richey’s words are still present. While the more morbid and depressed lyrics uttered by their chief songsmith at the time remain poignant and sad.

This show was split into two sets. The first played the album in full. The second featured many of their greatest hits with some rarities thrown in for good measure to please the most ardent of their feverish fanatics. Both sets showed great quality. The anger associated with The Holy Bible was evident throughout. Die In The Summertime and Mausoleum in particular brought great crowd reactions. While the anthemic PCP had bodies bouncing throughout the packed floor.

Much-loved anthem Motorcycle Emptiness brought fans to fervour again as the second set sprung into life. While You Stole The Sun From My Heart and You Love Us had strangers bounding around with one another. By the time crowd favourite A Design For Life came around, via a nice cross section of the Welshmen’s hits, the anticipation was reaching boiling point. And spill over it duly did as James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore and Nicky Wire slammed through arguably their biggest song. It was beautiful from start to finish – a celebration of great guitar sounds and raw passion. These guys are still as energetic and powerful now as they have ever been.

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JDB

 

 

There was a bit of a bump en route to Titchwell for the month’s birding when a car tried to sneak around the coach on a traffic island. The driver was left holding a detached bumper along with the necessary insurance details as we carried on to the Norfolk coast. The general consensus: “What a plonker!”

Never one to disappoint, Titchwell is the Manic Street Preachers of the bird reserve world – never anything less than a brilliant experience (I’m getting carried away now).

At Patsy’s Pool, There were good views of Red-crested Pochards as well as the run-of-the mill Pochard. Nifty little cameos from Little Grebes too. Plenty of Reed and Sedge Warblers along the reed and sedge beds (surprisingly!) and many Cetti’s Warblers burbled away but it took an age before spotting one!

In the lagoon, a Garganey napped amidst a swathe of other ducks and waders; Redshanks, Avocets, Egrets, Godwits and various plovers pottered around the mudflats, and Little Gulls winged their merry way overhead. Marsh Harriers patrolled the skies above the reed beds on the lookout for Duckling McNuggets and other snacks.

Unfittingly, I never managed to scoff my sandwiches by the coast when some Sandwich Terns appeared but I recovered to enjoy a Hoisin Duck Wrap in front of some Mallards.

We copped some Bearded Tits on the way back.

Garganey

Garganey by PC

Swallow by PC again

 

 

The Annual Rain-Dodging Event held every year at the Edgbaston Priory Club was enjoyed yet again by the usual suspects – Dave, Annie, Steve P and me – as we descended on the Aegon Classic for some much rain-delayed tennis.

Dave, the ticket maestro, had forgotten the tickets so he had to return via a £40 taxi round trip to get them. Steve P and I soldiered on in the meantime with our humongous breakfast – the traditional start to our tennis day.

In fairness, it is the first time Dave’s forgotten any tickets since the Thomson Twins were lied to by their parents.

The first semi-final saw several forays to the beer tent during the rain breaks to relish the atrociously over-priced drinks selection: an outrageous £4 for either a small bottle of Bud or a can of Boddies! Even Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells was appalled.

Between the monsoonal rain spells, the first match ended with Karolina Pliskova downing the equally tongue-tying Kristina Mladenovic in two sets: 6-2, 7-6. The second semi-final was disappointingly short without any rain – Angelique Kerber coming through against German compatriot Sabine Lisicki 6-3, 6-3.

Then it was off into town to round off a great day with more beer!

 

The monthly fell-walk was from Much Wenlock – the inventor of the Olympic Games. This tidy little village is only an hour’s drive from Birmingham and is to be heartily recommended – if one may use the term ‘heartily’ without the piss being taken out of one.

Here’s the full gen – courtesy of Roy Male:

Grid reference: 624001

Post code for Sat Nav: TF13 6HS

Route: From Olympic Trail plaque in town square follow this former coral reef past Major’s Leap (Civil War escape by Major Thomas Smallman) to Ippikins Rock viewpoint. Climb to Wenlock Edge Inn then retrace through Hughley and Blakeway Farm climbing back up to Edge and retrace to Much Wenlock.

Lunch: The Wenlock Edge Inn sadly closed a couple of years ago and is now unoccupied. The picnic tables however remain (no, they didn’t!) and can be used by us for a picnic lunch (no, they couldn’t!). Any alcohol will need to be carried!

Terrain: Woodland paths with some crop fields of rape, which may need to be bypassed (they should have been – see the photos!)

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House of William Penny Brookes – the Olympic Games fella

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TheWrekin

All around the Wrekin

Stu

Stuart lost amid the crops…

Trev

Trev lost amid the crops…

Lost

Just basically lost…

An appropriate poem on which to finish:
A Shropshire Lad 31: On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble
A.E. Housman

On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;

His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;

The gale, it plies the saplings double,

And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

‘Twould blow like this through holt and hanger

When Uricon the city stood:

‘Tis the old wind in the old anger,

But then it threshed another wood.

Then, ’twas before my time, the Roman

At yonder heaving hill would stare:

The blood that warms an English yeoman,

The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,

Through him the gale of life blew high;

The tree of man was never quiet:

Then ’twas the Roman, now ’tis I.

The gale, it plies the saplings double,

It blows so hard, ’twill soon be gone:

To-day the Roman and his trouble

Are ashes under Uricon.

Noteworthy midweek escapade: Craig, Neil, Roger and I took in a well-delish meal at the Rico Libre – a superb little restaurant in deepest, darkest Digbeth – a real find with great tapas.

Fortunately, I found an great write up from the Independent Birmingham website, which extols this venue better than I could – it looks like there’s an interesting blog to go with it – worth checking out:

http://independent-birmingham.co.uk/rico-libre

http://independent-birmingham.co.uk/blogs/fifty-reasons-to-stay-away-from-birmingham

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Juney Tunes

We are now on the wrong side of the Summer Solstice but hold the despair – we still have a good few months of light evenings and (hopefully) agreeable weather ahead.

But enough about that – this is actually a blog that got in on time!

June was jam-packed and finished with a flourish at Lakenheath – despite an unusually poor start. The initial outlook of possible showers morphed into a bit of a deluge that kept us pinned in the coach for half an hour before we could venture out onto the reserve.

A former carrot field, Lakenheath is one of those reserves where seeing stuff is secondary to enjoying the vast skies and landscapes of the Suffolk countryside.

We had already enjoyed a brief stop at Weeting Heath where the Stone Curlews were upstaged by dancing stoats but Lakenheath is the superior site by far (and also not quite as needy for cash as Weeting’s Norfolk Wildlife Trust!)

Lakenheath spoiled us with Common Cranes, Bearded Tits, good views of Kingfishers, wads of Marsh Harriers and hunting Hobbies.

There was also this interesting insect on view. Obviously an Agapanthia villosoviridescens – the Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn Beetle no less.

Pete managed this snap of it.

 

Longhorn

 

OK, its a fair cop – we hadn’t a clue what it was really! However, Dr Joe Botting from www.britishbugs.org.uk helped us out with a swift identification!

Previous to this, we had started the month with a trip up to Bempton Cliffs, the soaring, seabird-stacked buttresses between Bridlington and Scarborough. A long coach journey was rewarded with a sunny day and splendid views across the sea. Just about every seabird imaginable was criss-crossing the sky and sea, or pinned to the cliffs. Even the clownish Puffins were showing better than in previous visits.

Pete managed to get some impressive photos by digi-scoping

Avocet

Avocet

EyedHawkmoth

Eyed Hawkmoth

Fulmar

Fulmar

Gannet

Gannet

Puffin

Puffin

 

After the cliffs, we ventured back south for the tidal reedbeds of Blacktoft Sands.

We watched a marauding Marsh Harrier snatch a gull chick from one of the scrapes, the raptor nonchalantly predating the colony with pretty ineffectual resistance coming from the screaming gulls.

There were also welcome entomological interludes with an Eyed Hawkmoth sunning itself, and an Ichneumon Wasp trailing the mother of all stingers across a window pane of the viewing hut.

 

Culture Alert!

I visited the BIAD Graduate Show, which was apparently bursting with creativity and fresh ideas but, in truth, I was more interested in having a look around this fine, old building.

Home of the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (in case you were wondering what BIAD stood for…) Margaret Street is a listed Venetian Gothic building with light airy studios and retains the original wood interiors, stained glass windows and mosaic floors. The splendid stairwells have since been updated with floating mezzanine levels, glass lifts and spiral staircases.

The work of the students doesn’t seem to have advanced much (is it relevant? Get me!) since I was a student at the Bourneville campus nearly 20 years ago.

However, there seems little doubt that they all enjoyed putting their final projects together – paint was Pollocked around like there was no tomorrow, and all manner of materials were cast in moulds, back-lit and stacked up in various arrangements. Some decent photography was evident, including one of a dead rook (this blog is getting way too ornithology-reliant…)

 

Tennis at Edgbaston was once again on the agenda but with only two rain breaks, both semi-finals were completed this year, and we had to make do with fewer visits to the bar.

Ana Ivanovic beat Shuai Zhang 6-2 6-2 and the tongue-trippingly Barbora Zahlavova Strycova beat Casey Dellacqua 7-6 6-1.

 

Culture Alert 2…

There was an interesting photographic and film exhibition – Birmingham’s Hidden Spaces, which celebrated the city’s architecture. It was being held at Curzon Street Station and, similarly to Margaret Street, I was drawn more to the venue than to the event it was hosting.

Although it’s been a long time since anything remotely locomotive trundled through these premises, Curzon Street Station is the world’s oldest surviving piece of monumental railway architecture, and worth a gander.

After so many years out of commission, I think it may be eventually incorporated in some way into the HS2 railway network.