Tuesday, 10 November 2015


Andy got the news about a rare bird in Chesterfield on Sunday afternoon.  Too late to do anything about it.  Well, it was still there this morning so we set off.

There's never any question of not finding the right location on a rare bird twitch. You just follow the crowd.  This was a small crowd in comparison to some I have seen ... but the bird has been here three days ... this was a Tuesday morning ... doesn't anyone go to work any more? Obviously not. But most of them were my age.   You wouldn't believe how many people can turn up to a weekend twitch: there is a full age range too, from young kids (with their own binoculars so not just dragged along by a parent), through to pensioners. Some of them travel miles. A man today had driven down from Newcastle to see this bird.  Last month there was a rare bird on the Isle of Lewis and people were chartering planes to see it. 

Birders can be very obsessive.  A friend left his own wedding reception on getting news a rarity had turned up: his father chased after him to bring him back! Another guy lost an eye in a car crash trying to get to a bird before it flew off and Andy was at a twitch where a guy died from a heart attack and his mate got in a panic because he had to stay with him when the bird was just down the road!

Today's bird was a Crag Martin.  There have only been 9 previous sightings of this species in the UK.  It should be in the South of France but it has ended up in Chesterfield flying round the famous crooked spire.  As I parked up Andy was busy finding the bird.  He got a good view of it as it flew away!! Luckily it returned about five minutes later.  That isn't always the case ... one time Andy drove to Yorkshire (two hours away) to see a rare water bird. He missed it by ten minutes.
 "Which way did it go?" he asked.
 "That way," replied a helpful Yorkshireman.
"Well, what's over there?" He wondered if there was a large body of water close by it might have headed towards.
"Eh," came the reply, "there's naught over there ... that's Lancashire!"

We spent an hour watching this swallow like bird zooming about ... it was incredibly fast.  I could find it with my binoculars but there was no chance with my camera.  It was a nice outing and I got to see the spire close up.  Locals have an amusing explanation for the crocked spire: apparently a virgin was married there and the church was so surprised it turned round to look at the bride!

The spire was added in the 14th century, just after the Black Death had killed off many craftsmen so lack of skill could account for the poor building work.  I was always told it twisted because unseasoned wood was used but apparently they always used unseasoned wood because it was easier to work with ... they just adjusted it as it seasoned.  No, it was the lead covering that caused it.  The sun shining on the south side all day made that side expand more quickly than the north side. The fault was compounded by the weight of the metal (33 tons) because the structure was not designed to hold that kind of weight. It twists by 45 degrees and leans 9 feet 6 inches away from its true centre.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Autumn: Travel or Travail

Well, Autumn has in fact been and gone! The farmer collected the crop, ploughed the field, cut the hedges and sowed the seeds a few weeks ago and a new crop has appeared now. The circle goes on. My garden furniture has been stored until next Spring but I still have bulbs to plant and geraniums to dig up!  It is raining today though so those jobs can wait!

We are taking pleasure in ordinary, everyday things.  We have enjoyed a few local walks in the evenings and after living here for over twenty years we are spending some time exploring the villages around us.  Who knew there was a William Morris stained glass window just a couple of miles away?  Or that King Edward VIII (when he was Prince of Wales) had an affair with a young woman in the next village to us before he met Wallis? Or the very first US Ambassador was buried in East Stoke where a few hundred years earlier 7000 men had been hacked to pieces along the path called the Red Gutter? We are unearthing a great deal of fascinating history, learning about people who lived here before us, at the same time as enjoying the wildlife and the local hostelries.

We went to two local firework displays this week.  I much prefer the organised events of today rather than the back garden parties of my childhood.  There were so many unnecessary accidents in the bad old days.  Kids didn't recognise the dangers because you could buy bangers to throw at people and jumping jacks that cracked around on the playground floor near your feet! The only drawback is the food ... I remember mum and the neighbours making sticky toffee apples, trays of caramel toffee to glue your teeth together and Yorkshire parkin (a flat ginger cake made with treacle). At the bonfire on Saturday we queued for 15 minutes to get a drink then just looked at the line for the mushy peas and decided we weren't that hungry!  Great displays though.

When I came down this morning this fine fellow was in the garden. They don't visit over the breeding season and the farmer working in the field tends to scare them off but I walked into the garden a few days ago and three females flew out, then he came in today.  So good to have them back.

So what else have I been up to since my last post in July?  Not a great deal and yet I have been very busy!  I have been painting the front of the house (very nice pale green) and decorating two bedrooms; working with a group of local residents on a Community-led Plan; reading for a monthly Book Group and visiting my family in Yorkshire,  When I was working and imagined my retirement I thought I would be travelling round Europe or far off places; writing or being crafty.  We have travelled but I find I love being at home! The word 'Travel' comes from the same root as the French word for work, 'Travail'.  Hundreds of years ago travelling was very hard work!  Well, I like the idea of going somewhere but I totally like the idea of sitting around in my cosy house doing whatever takes my fancy for the day, knowing everything I need is at hand! Lazy? No, just content! How I have changed.  Many years ago an older friend said she was content with her life and I remember thinking she lacked ambition! Now I understand what she meant ... I am satisfied with where I am in life and I have never felt happier. 

Having said that we did venture out to London recently.  Andy was invited to attend an award ceremony at the Mall Galleries and I could go along as his guest. We reserved seats on the train and booked a lovely hotel in the centre a few minutes walk away from the gallery.  When we got to the train station the board informed us our train had been cancelled! Luckily there wasn't a long wait for the next train but obviously it was going to be busier and we no longer had reservations.  We needed have worried though we did manage to get a seat. 

We had lunch at Covent Garden, watched a few street performers and enjoyed the shops then walked through the city to the hotel ... by which time my feet were aching! I had worn some comfortable boots but they did have a bit of a heel and when I put them on I intended to pick up my flat shoes before leaving the house.  So why didn't I?!

The exhibition was great.  Some fabulous work by really creative people ... always makes me want to get out the water colours (but then I sit in front of a blank sheet of paper or actually attempt to do something and realise within minutes why I don't paint!).  Here is the link to the catalogue.

We had a wonderful evening, admiring the work, chatting with old friends and seeing the award ceremony before wandering back through London to our hotel. 

After breakfast next day we walked to the V&A.  Half way there I was in dire need of those flat shoes!  I went straight into the first department store and picked up a simple pair of cloth flats.... £248 .... fortunately H&M were right next door ... smart flat lace ups £19.99 ...

Ironically one of the V&A exhibitions was entitled 'Shoes: Pleasure and Pain'

During the afternoon we travelled across London to a camera shop where Andy purchased a new lens then made our way back to King's Cross for something to eat from the healthy food stalls outside.  What a great market!  Making me hungry thinking about it now!

Well our train was on time ... but some poor person was killed further up the line so we were diverted!  We ended up being over an hour late so we missed our connection.  We sat in a steamed up waiting room on a cold, wet night for an hour ... just twenty minutes drive from home!