April Foolery



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.





Poop-Scoop needed!


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.


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.


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.



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).


Glastonbury in the distance


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.


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.



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.


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. 




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.


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:





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.



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.


JC’s End of the Year…Adios 2014

2015 The nights have well and truly drawn in but, despite the social demands and alcohol-inducing diversions that the month of December routinely brings, there was room enough to squeeze in a couple of jaunts. The West Midland Bird Club made the most of the first weekend with an early visit to the River Lee Country Park on the Sunday. Needless to say, there were plenty of lakes, scrapes and farmland habitats to get our teeth into. It had rained heavily the past couple of days with flooded areas creating a few marshy no-go areas but most of the paths were clear for us to explore the many lakes and reed beds that spread out across the park. There were some nice cameos from Green Woodpeckers, and an obliging Water Rail from one of the hides, but the usual congregations of ducks and suchlike proved to be the mainstay of our birding experience.




Green Sandpiper

There was also the UCB staff walking club’s Christmas ramble around Worcestershire (7 miles of it) taking in a little of Abberley and a chunk of Pensax, and a reasonably appointed dining area in the Bell at Pensax, a great little pub that we’ve visited before on one of our previous walking jaunts. The Bell is a brick and mock-Tudor building that was built in 1883, the main inn sign containing a bell cast in 1886 for the bell-tower at Abberley Hall. Loving a bit of local history there… Suffice to say, we weren’t let down by the portions…

…which is more than can be said of this blog – meagre to say the least!

For a Twixmas break, a few of us took ourselves off to Tanworth-in-Arden for a wee break, catching up briefly with Pete and Severine, who had rented a cottage in nearby Henley (also in-Arden). A nice little break ensued with an interesting church – the Church of Mary Magdalene – across the way from the Bell Inn where we were staying. Tanworth was the childhood home of folk musician Nick Drake, and and his sister – the actress Gabreille Drake. His grave lies in the parish churchyard. The song “Life in a Northern Town” by The Dream Academy is a reference to Tanworth, despite its Midlands rather than northern situation (the band was London-based), and was a tribute to Drake. (Thanks Wikipedia). The grave of nine-times world motorcycle champion Mike Hailwood, and his daughter Michelle, who were both killed in a car accident at Portway in 1981, are also to be found here. The boxer “Gentleman” Jack Hood was the licensee of the Bell public house in Tanworth, displaying above the bar the Lonsdale belt that he won on 31 May 1926. (Loving Wikipedia…) The village was also the filming location for the fictional village of Kings Oak from the British television series Crossroads between 1970 and 1988.



Here’s to 2015 (again, as I’m posting this in January – you can see I’m really quite rubbish with all this deadline malarky). I’m also hoping to connect with fellow bloggers this year too as I’ve had a few kind and encouraging Emails from fellow-Wordpressers. I’m aiming for a few new projects for next year now that the novel’s well and truly out of the way. I’ve managed to source a few books and articles about making the blog pop so I’ll be experimenting with some new stuff along the way. WordPress has also sent me some data on this site, which I’ve included out of interest!

As if you’re interested…


JC’s November in a Nutshell

November… Jeez…!

Not a fan….

Autumn’s slipped away and the gloom is upon us, but there’s always stuff to do.

Such as going to Norfolk so off we went.

Pete and I joined the rest of the WMBC, and stayed at the Le Strange Arms Hotel in Old Hunstanton, settling ourselves in for a weekend of walking, drinking and bird watching.

Old Hunstanton sits just north of its busier brother, Hunstanton, and is a rarity along the North Norfolk coast in that it is very close to the beach and you don’t need to go clumping over the salt marshes to reach the water.

Old Hunstanton traces its history back to AD 855 when St Edmund was shipwrecked on the coast (I thought I’d throw in a little local history there).

The hotel was originally built in the 1600s when it was a farm house, and is named after pioneering architect Henry L’Estrange Styleman Le Strange.

There was also the added bonus of a pub – The Ancient Mariner Inn – a mere stumble away next door!

Le Strange pretty much put Hunstanton on the map for holidaying aristocrats and, with the help of the coming railway, the town was soon blooming as a popular seaside resort.

So a long weekend was set-up with plenty of healthy fresh air and alcohol. The weather was fine – a bit blowy on the Saturday, and there was a rapid last half hour drenching at Holme where we went to find owls – but otherwise not bad at all.

Spent the morning at Holme Dunes, scouring the salt marshes for our feathered friends before heading over to Thornham to catch some restless flocks of twite. If it were possible to be reincarnated as a bird, a twite is about the least interesting bird you’d want to return as.

Off road, through telescopes, we managed to get miniscule views of rough-legged buzzard as well as the less tardy shanked versions.

At Burnham Norton, a village tucked away down a lane off the main coastal road, there was a chance to stretch our legs along the marshy foreshore where cattle were grazing on the salt grasses of the tidal Norton marshes.

We took in the intriguely-named village, Stiffkey, for even more salt marsh viewing (we like variety). Stiffkey is first evidenced in the Doomsday Book of 1086, and means ‘stump island – island with stumps of trees’. (Thanks Wikipedia!)

We started the weekend with an owl – a short-eared – and finished with an owl – a barn – at Titchwell.

We were only at Titchwell a couple of months ago but by staying overnight, we were able to experience dusk over the reserve. There were huge flocks of golden plovers glittering all over the place, loads of other waders, quartering marsh harriers – and a couple of hunting peregrines, which made all other birds seem slovenly in flight.

Popped into Snettisham on the way home for the odd hour or three – a mere wader- waddle from Hunstanton – to close off a great weekend of afore-mentioned walking, drinking and bird watching!





The mid-week Film Club offered Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion – an anti-war statement set in the German prison camps of WW1, and The Diary of an Unknown Soldier – a short piece revealing the internal monologue of a British soldier on the front in Eastern France (“That’s how I will probably die, left like a poor old rag on the battlefield. When you know this is going to happen to you, your body suddenly becomes something terribly precious to you. This flesh, soft and warm is yours; a personal belonging not to be discarded like an awful piece of meat. You find yourself thinking about this, realizing what a wonderful thing your body is, and what an awful and wrong thing it is to maltreat it.”)

With one weekend away under the belt, the gloom and drear of the month compelled Steve and me to fly to Alicante for a few days sun.

A very pleasant 20 degrees all round – shorts and tee shirts during the day cannot be moaned about!

Alicante is a short two and a half hours flight from Brum, and with the town being only a short distance from the airport, it makes for a very easy destination for a mid-winter break.

There was plenty to do to interrupt the drinking.

The Santa Barbara castle on Mount Benacantil overlooks the city, and can be reached by lift! Great views can be enjoyed over the port and marina, and a pleasant walk down through El Palmeral Park brings you back down to the town.

The promenade Explanada de Espana, lined by palm trees, is paved with marble floors creating a wavy and somewhat unsettling form along the waterfront – a perfect place to stroll along but the wavy lines do make you often feel as if you’re going to stumble into a bit of a dip.


Lance and Erin

For a smidgeon of culture, we popped into the co-cathedral of Saint Nicholas of Bari, which was built over an ancient mosque.

Plenty of bars to indulge in Tapas and beer – always a joy to eat and drink outside in November when you’re abroad!

Now for some piccies by Steve…













 It is 40 years since the Birmingham bombings and a commemorative concert was held at the Town Hall, which was well-attended with a decent line-up of acts turning up to support the anniversary.

The itinerary was as follows:

Carl Chinn

Shi Ling Chin & piano

Dave Morgan and band with Hossam Rhamzy

Steady Hands

Dave Pegg & Steve Gibbons

King Pleasure & The Biscuit Boys