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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…

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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!

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Spoonbills

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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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“April is the Cruellest Month”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Remembering September

A staff industry update residential by the Business School@UCB tagged Liverpool and Manchester with the onerous task of keeping us informed and entertained for a couple of days.

Armed with Enterprise, Regeneration and Digital Innovation themes, these two major cities ticked all the boxes for our team building and bonding sessions.

First up was a tour of the Auto Trader premises, which followed a talk on the challenges of running an online commercial business.

 

The Auto Trader magazine was published weekly in a number of regional editions with circulation peaking at 368,000 in 2000 but soon dropping down to 27,000 by 2013. It was in this year, 36 years after it began, that the final magazine was printed before the company concentrated on its online business.

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First and Final editions

 

Autotrader.co.uk was launched in 1996 and is the UK’s busiest automotive web site with over 10 million users per month.

So many stats and numbers so here’s a little unrelated fun fact: the founder of Auto Trader in the UK was John Madeiski, who went on to take over Reading Football Club.

After a presentation, we ventured through the offices, spread out over wide floors with shiny cars scattered everywhere and not one in need of a polish.

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In accordance with its adoption of agile ways of working, Auto Trader’s offices include hot desking spaces, informal breakout areas, walls that can be scribbled on, touchscreens, and ‘war rooms’ for teams to attack various problems.

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Some walls were decorated with graphics from the well-known Haynes manuals, which could be coloured in if the mood took anyone but the most striking element were those cars – a series of iconic vehicles that were chosen to represent different decades in Auto Trader’s long history.

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Before these were brought into the offices, staff were given the opportunity to drive the cars around the old offices as a tribute. Afterwards, the engines were removed, and the cars coated with a special paint allowing them to be written on. Some were also adapted into little meeting dens – making them the perfect jotting pads!

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Lunch was scheduled at Pokusevski’s, a Mediterranean style deli in the heart of Media City. Suitably shored up, the team took a tour of Media City, part of the recently regenerated Salford Quays and home to a whole host of BBC channels and programmes such as Match of the Day, Blue Peter, A Question of Sport, Mastermind, BBC Breakfast, Radio 5 Live, CBBC, and BBC Sport, to name but eight.

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Sian with Dave and Derek the Daleks (Dave always stands on the left)

The team was treated to an exciting interactive radio drama experience with all participants performing impressively. Four of them were immediately signed up for the next series of Downton Abbey.

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Visits to the BBC Breakfast studio, Radio 6Music studio (where Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe were jabbering away) and the BBC Sport studios were next up.

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The team were given the chance to see and take part in innovative digital broadcasting channels and there was no shortage of volunteers with several of the team stepping up to read the news, forecast the weather and play Question of Sport.

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An exhausting but enjoyable day saw us depart Manchester for Liverpool where we booked into the Nadler Hotel. This unique hotel – once a warehouse and print works – is situated in the centre of Liverpool’s authentic, urban cool Rope Walks village.

Dinner was taken at the Old Blind School, a restaurant that had previously served as a school for blind children, a police station and a trade union headquarters.

Drink was taken at the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, which is slowly becoming my local, it seems.

With a continental breakfast to help us on our way (a paper bag with muesli and yogurt neatly stuffed in the fridge), our first call was the Museum of Liverpool.

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A presentation was given by Tracy McGeagh, the Director of Marketing Communications, on Innovative Digital Practice and Audience Engagement.

A swift tour of the museum followed and then it was off for a ferry across the Mersey.

An Indian festival joined us aboard the ferry, making for a lively cruise along the river, which offered sweeping views across Liverpool’s iconic cityscape whenever the blustery wind wasn’t keeping our eyes closed.

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Afternoon tea at the Hard Day’s Night hotel rounded off an excellent couple of days, with cakes and sandwiches being served in the Blake’s Restaurant (Peter Blake being the sleeve artist for the famous Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album).

PS: For more about Liverpool and some sunnier photos, just scroll down to last month’s post (Robust August)…

 

Nature Notes Warning

Having done Manchester on Thursday and Liverpool on Friday, I did Norfolk on Sunday – a full weekend and more! It was the start of the birdwatching season and we made our way to Titchwell.

It’s not always necessary to see stuff when visiting this reserve – just enjoying the wide expanses of water, reed beds and sandy beaches under blue skies generally does the job.

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However, amidst the usual array of Titchwell specialties, there was a new tick – a couple of Black Terns flying low over the sea.

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Otherwise, it was business as usual with Ruffs, Yellow Wagtail, Little Stints, a Garganey, Whimbrel and various ducks, grebes, geese, swans, plovers, snipe, waders and whatnot milling about to confirm Titchwell as a truly premier reserve.

 

Then there was the fell-walking club’s not-quite-fell-walk around Hopesay in Shropshire. This walk also turned up about six Red Kites, picking through a recently ploughed field for wormy delights.

Here’s Paul with the details, in case anyone fancies doing a gentle amble through some fantastic countryside – weather helps, of course, and it was fantastic on the day too!

Map:  Explorer 217 The Long Mynd & Wenlock Edge

Start Point and Parking: 

Stokesay Castle. The car park is to the rear of Stokesay Castle and the church. It is An English Heritage car park and you pay at a machine.

Grid ref: 435817 – Postcode for SatNav: SY7 9AH

The Walk:

We follow the Shropshire Way via Sibdon Carwood to Hopesay Common. This gets the climbing out of the way and is worth it for the wonderful views from the top. We then descend to Cheney Longville and cross the River Onny to Wistanstow for lunch. The pub is the Plough, which is the tap house of the Woods brewery, an independent brewery since 1980. Probably best known for Shropshire Lad.

Following lunch, we head SE crossing the A49 and the Quinney Brook, then S along the Onny valley, back to the start.

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To conclude the cultural element of the month, the Flat Disc Society fired up a new season with a screen showing of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

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This little blurb from the Michigan Theatre Facebook page pretty much sums it up:

This influential German science-fiction film presents a highly stylized futuristic city where a beautiful and cultured utopia exists above a bleak underworld populated by mistreated workers. When the privileged youth Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) discovers the grim scene under the city, he becomes intent on helping the workers. He befriends the rebellious teacher Maria (Brigitte Helm), but this puts him at odds with his authoritative father, leading to greater conflict.

This film was the Giorgio Moroder restored version, which threw in a synth-rock soundtrack including Freddie Mercury, Bonnie Tyler, Pat Benetar and Adam Ant and is, quite possibly, the first ever disco remix of an entire movie.

 

Finally, to round off October – an enjoyable evening was spent at the Birmingham Rep to see Dead Sheep, a play about Geoffrey Howe’s bloodless revenge on Margaret Thatcher.

Here’s the poster from the Rep, and a review from Birminghampress.com by Richard Lutz:

To put this play and its title in context: Labour heavyweight Denis Healey once hilariously called being attacked by Tory politician Geoffrey Howe akin to “being savaged by a dead sheep”.

Howe, Maggie’s right hand man, was indeed placid, quiet, monk-ish and he maybe deserved the quip from the sharp-tongued Healey as they sparred across the Commons back in the eighties. But this play is about when Howe turned from dead sheep to a wolf. When sidelined by an increasingly rigid out of touch Thatcher more than a quarter of a century ago, he resigned from government and delivered a vicious attack on the flailing anti-Europe Prime Minister. She resigned soon after.

Ex BBC reporter Jonathan Maitland re-creates this episode, throwing in the delightful sub plot of Howe’s liberal wife Elspeth tangling with Maggie every time they met – like “two wasps in a jam jar” quips louche MP Alan Clark at one point. She comes across as half Lady MacBeth, half St Joan.

Paul Bradley pulls off the humbled figure of Howe to a tee – even when he wakens from his subservience to launch his fatal assault. Carol Royle is Elspeth Howe… assertive, in love with her cowed husband and still an enigma as to what part she actually played in perfecting the fatal verbal blow against the woman she detested.

As for the Maggie herself, here’s a surprise. It’s taken on by Steve Nallon who voiced the Spitting Image Thatcher three decades ago. He/She comes across as a bit of caricature, the face rigid, humourless, the gait stiff and awkward, the voice perfectly pitched. But sometimes it is a panto dame in what is a fine dark comedy play coloured by superior acting.

A trio of actors valiantly portrays some of the main players from that era: the aforesaid Alan Clark, Neil Kinnock, Downing Street spokesman Bernard Ingham, Ian Gow, Nigel Lawson and even an hilarious impression of Brian Walden, the TV front man who never could pwonounce the full wange of the alphabet. Too bad, though, there was no Denis Thatcher (only an offstage voice) or the Tarzan-cum-elephant in the Tory room, a certain Michael Heseltine.

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April Foolery

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Our annual trip to Devon kicked off on the 1st of the month and a long weekend lay in wait for some walking, birding and boozing.

It was the WMBC’s spring foray into darkest Devon, and before joining the rest of the group at the Best Western Passage Hotel in Kingsteignton, Pete and I ran up a few hours in Haldon Forest Park.

Clocking the Siskins and Coal Tits on the feeders, we then took one of the circular trails through the forest, detouring slightly to visit the raptor viewpoint from which we could hear a thrush but little else.

Exminster Marshes proved more profitable with the poster boy for the day – a Short-eared Owl quartering the fields not far from the car park.

The marshes are always a good diversion with stretches of marsh (the clue’s in the name) and squelchy grass fields spanning the points between the railway lines to the canal.

A pint of Yellowhammer ale in the Turf Hotel after a yomp to the estuary shore supplied all the criteria of our initial aims. A few waders pootled around the mudflats as we quaffed some ale and made inroads on huge slabs of fruit cake (a staple accompaniment on a par with scratchings and peanuts).

The next day and a very similar (but not unwelcome) itinerary to previous years with a first stop at Berry Head for Cirl Buntings and Wheatear, then Broadsands for Coffee and Pasties, and Dawlish Warren for Whatever the Wind Blew In.

Berry Head was in much better condition than last year without the howling rain and crashing wind. The buntings weren’t showing particularly well, but some sprightly Wheatears were flitting around by the quarry.

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Poop-Scoop needed!

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We returned to the car park and left 22 minutes past our allotted 2 hour stay and were subsequently fined £85 by the marauding car park company via their CCTV. Rip-off doesn’t come close so a strongly worded letter must surely be in the offing.

Broadsands has a very convenient café from which to view the sea for the lazy watcher, and much to enjoy around its little circular shoreline. A pair of Peregrines bombed through overhead, and a Kestrel stuck to the script, hovering above the lower slopes of the surrounding hillside.

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At Dawlish Warren, the walking took us over the sapping dunes alongside the golf course and onto the hide facing across the strand and shoreline. Nothing out of the ordinary but the ordinary is always welcome with waders, plovers, gulls, mergansers, egrets and terns tearing up the place.

On Sunday, we took off for Bowling Green Marsh on the east bank of the Exe Estuary. Plenty of waterbirds crowded the grassy banks and swirled around in the pools. BGM overlooks the Clyst and the rising tide often pushes waders off the mudflats. The tide was taking a time-out when we got there, many of the birds blurry in the distance.

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So it was off to the fern and gorse of Woodbury Common for Dartford Warblers and a general mooch about, catching the odd glimpse of these elusive little perks of a bird as they ducked and dived in the undergrowth.

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Having stayed overnight at the Manor Hotel in Exmouth, we made the slow run back to Brum via Ham Wall and Shapwick Fen in Somerset. Lots of Great White Egrets, a Bittern and Glossy Ibis provided a decent haul in between the prolonged showers (actually, prolonged drenching, more like).

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Glastonbury in the distance

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The Rotter’s Club, that most excellent coming-of-age novel by Jonathan Coe, was being adapted at the Birmingham Rep. A World Premiere, no less (according to the flyer).

Always a sucker for a World Premiere, I roped in Steve B and we popped along for the show, performed by the Rep’s very able and talented youth theatre.

Here’s some of the review by Richard Lutz and a photo from the Birmingham Press website: http://thebirminghampress.com:

 

The Rotters’ Club: Sparky, cheeky and fresh faced in a changing world

There’s a telling photograph on the cover of The Rotters’ Club theatre programme. It shows a group of mid-seventies grammar school boys in Birmingham: cocky, ready to roll, happy to pose and be posey in front of the camera. They’re the aspirational class lads. And Jonathan Coe’s novel brought their hopes, anxieties and fantasies sharply into focus in his successful novel of the same name.

Rotters'Now it comes to The Birmingham Rep. And what a pleasure it is to see a Birmingham story, written by a Birmingham writer, staging the premiere in a Birmingham theatre by a young troupe of…you guessed it…Birmingham actors.

It’s never easy to transplant a book into a play. Many times it fails. This one doesn’t. The novel’s context is stripped away by adaptor Richard Cameron leaving us with what has to be the bare bones of Coe’s book and its era: From Callaghan to Thatcher, from the end of frugality to the pub bombings, from emerging prosperity to the Longbridge strikes and even from the ennui of prog music to the anger and spit of the punk generation.

The transformation is told through the eyes of Ben Trotter clearly a youthful Jonathan Coe – who loves his music, loves his dream girl and has an even more deep love for his grammar school pals (Coe himself was a King Edward lad).

The young cast, some of them in their teens, acquit themselves well: refreshing, vigorous, foul mouthed, sparky and, for the boys at least, fetid, sweaty and, of course, obsessed by sex.

Leading the pack is Charlie Mills as Ben, a south Birmingham shaggy-haired lad whose daily path on the number 62 bus takes him from post-war family complacency to the more rigorous world of school. He experiences the universe of changing music, the anger of politics, the ugliness of racism and, through a family tragedy, the vileness of the IRA murders in the city in 1974. There is growth and there is the allure of the future. Mills does teenage yearnings and anxieties very well. An A for him.

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Other cast members flesh things out – Jasmin Melissa Hylton as the young teenager who longs for her older married lover and Haris Myers has a nasty sting as a fresh-faced proto National Front supporter. All thankfully use the Brummie accent, that only adds to the sense of place.

So, full marks for this cast from The Young Rep troupe. They had to deal with the stripping back of a good novel but in all a production worth seeing and one for this city to be proud of.

 

Gorse

The month’s fell-walk ventured into the heady heights of Leicestershire, a county no doubt agog with impending Premiership acclaim.

Here’s Adrian with his usual brief account:

Welcome to details of the next excursion this time to the pleasant hilly countryside of Leicestershire.  Several miles of undulating loveliness with (on a bright day) some excellent views to be had. There is some Geology for the rock heads, some archaeology for me, something for the steam heads and a bit of tarmac for Roy. And dur dur dur dur, dur dur:  a surprise feature on the walk. Might do a dur dur dur dur, dur dur surprise feature bit on walks from now on. 

Burrough Hill, Leicestershire

Start: 10.00 am: Burrough Hill car park

GR: SK 766115

Map: Explorer sheet 246

Postcode for Sat Navs: LE14 2QZ

The walk:

We end up going through the Hill Fort at the end so will probably not dwell there at the start although views from there are glorious on a bright day. Anyway if I start rabbiting on about the Iron Age at the end of the walk instead of the beginning, you can all make your excuses and leave or just sneak off behind my back so I am left talking to myself.  

From the Hill Fort area we pick up the Old Dalby road. Sorry Roy don’t get too excited it was grassed over decades ago you will have to wait a bit longer for some tarmac. We go through a pleasant wood then turn to pick up the path to Somerby taking in the lovely Leicestershire countryside. The beer at the Saddle in Twyford where we shall go for lunch is pretty good. It must be. It is after a visit there that most people have spotted the Twyford Panther roaming in the village. Green King IPA was on last time I was there at Easter as well as some local panther-seeing inducing brews.     

Anyway we make our way out of Somerby and Roy finally gets a bit of tarmac to walk on. I am then in two minds. No, not that of a fool or an idiot. There are two paths we could take. The one slightly longer but does disguise this walk’s dur dur dur dur, dur dur surprise feature for longer and may be the more pleasant. If there is time I shall take the slightly longer route (Editor’s note: we did). Either way we end up at White House Farm. From there we go through a very pleasant shallow valley to: dur dur dur dur, dur dur – THIS WALK’S SURPRISE FEATURE.

Bridge3

The Surprise Feature…

I could give details about it but then it wouldn’t be a surprise would it. From dur dur dur dur, dur dur THIS WALKS SURPRISE FEATURE, we make us way to nearby Twyford and the aforementioned pub The Saddle. 

Bridge2

Crops2

Crops

Details of pub menu are given below at the bottom. You can try and book your order if you want to. Might be best, as they may feel swamped otherwise. (Editor’s note: no point – they only had sandwiches on).

 From the Saddle it is a little uphill but we go through some lovely open country side. Crossing the bed of the old railway line and eventually to the edge of the Church at Burrough Hill. From there we head for the Hill Fort, which we do have to climb up to. It took me 1 hour and 20 from the Saddle to the top of the Hill fort last time I did it. That was by no means pushing it. So we should do that stretch in well less than a couple of hours. But you do then have time to take in the Hill Fort and its glorious setting and surroundings. There is a toposcope in one corner of the fort. You can see back to a walk we did a few years ago just outside Leicester where the newly elected Chairman of the club won the annual raffle for a year’s subscription of a magazine. You will pass the bottom end of that walk on the A46.

Road               

This walk does undulate. I was originally going to push on from Twyford to the Carrington pub at Ashby Folville. But that would push the walk too far and the Carrington has been taken over by someone who wants to project manage it. Project Management in the civil service usually means a bloody shambles.      

Cheers Adrian!

 

Bonus bird trip time: Off to Woolston Eyes in Cheshire to see what was occurring at this RSPB reserve, a superb wetland habitat, which lies next to the Manchester Ship Canal and can only be reached by scurrying across the Mersey via a steel bridge.

The eyes are beds that were (and still are) used for holding pumped dredgings from the canal. No3 bed is the main part of the reserve, and is actually an island accessible by a bridge with a secure gate. Pochard, Teal and Tufted Duck milled around on the pools; some Shoveler, Shelduck, and a couple of Little Grebes also did their bit. However, the flagship species is the Black-necked Grebe, and there were several of these bonny little birds bobbing along in the water.

Then it was off to a new reserve for the afternoon – Burton Mere Wetlands, which straddles the border between England and Wales on the Dee Estuary.

It was worth going just for the bluebells that floored the forest. Here’s a selection:

Bluebells4

Bluebells3

Bluebells2

Bluebells

Burton Mere has been crafted by many years of hard work, which has restored reedbeds, fenland and farmland into a unique blended landscape. An impressive Visitors’ Centre leads out onto boardwalks and trails, which lead up past an Iron Age Hill Fort to Burton Point, affording wide, sweeping views over the estuary.

As well as the usual medley of waterfowl, a cluster of Yellow Wagtails proved to be a highlight, flitting between goose-laden grasses and often perching on the wire fencing.

BurtonMere

 

The month’s Flat Disc Society theme was nuclear catastrophes (next month: rom-coms) marking the 30th anniversary of the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat, Ukraine.

First up was a documentary, The Battle for Chernobyl, to get us in the mood. Then Threads – Barry Hines’ controversial 1984 film examining the effects of nuclear war by following two Sheffield families. Barry Hines died last month, and is best known for his novel A Kestrel for a Knave, filmed as Kes.

Threads was pretty meaty but if you want a more thorough review, here’s the lowdown from http://tvtropes.org:

“In an urban society, everything connects. Each person’s needs are fed by the skills of many others. Our lives are woven together in a fabric. But the connections that make society strong, also make it vulnerable.”

Threads, a 1984 docudrama produced by the BBC. Britain has quite the history of post-apocalyptic fiction on its DVD and book shelves, and Threads is amongst the most disturbing examples.

The film depicts the terrifying consequences of nuclear warfare upon an unsuspecting world. Set mainly in Sheffieldduring the height of the Cold War, Threads follows two families, amongst the other members of their town, as they deal with the absolute destruction of their society as a result of nuclear war with the Soviet Union (which at the time of release was somewhat more likely than it is today). The findings of the 1955 Strath Report noted that the UK was singularly vulnerable to a nuclear exchange due to the country’s small size, high urban population, and dependency upon food-imports. The film reflects this fairly accurate assessment of the UK’s likely situation with what the uninformed might call a hopeless and pessimistic outset – ending with a medieval world where agriculture predominates, starvation is ever-present, modern medicine doesn’t exist, martial law prevails, capital punishment is routine, children are undereducated savages, the ozone layer is gone, and Survival Of The Fittest is the only way to get by.

To any would-be viewers: if you’re looking for a story with a happy or hopeful ending this movie is not the way to go, and a strong stomach is pretty much mandatory. Its strict adherence to a realistic portrayal of nuclear war and its after-effects makes it one of the scariest films ever made.

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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