The Sprint

There is nothing, absolutely nothing like the sprint finish of a bike race.

For a start, in a big stage race, you never know if there will be a sprint finish.  On a flat stage, there usually is but sometimes a couple of riders will break away so fast that even the combined strength of the peloton can’t reel them back in (cycling cliché alert). Occasionally, a lone rider will jump away from the rest and time-trial his way to a solo victory.  Mostly there are sprint finishes.

There’s a lot of jostling in the last 3k as teams get organised to lead out their most explosive sprinters.  You can always pick out the sprinters. While the climbers are skinny and slight, sprinters have the bulky power-packed thighs of Bernini’s river gods.

Last Saturday, I was in Cheltenham, 100 metres ahead of the finish line of the 7th stage of the Tour of Britain, watching on a big screen as the riders braved 185k in driving rain, sunshine and howling winds before dropping down Cleeve Hill and heading into the centre.

The helicopter shots were incredible. The riders were all together – a morphing mass of colour like a rampaging living creature, swooping around the sharp right near M&S, then swooping immediately left at Boots corner and surging between the crowds on the Promenade.

One minute they were on the screen, the next, the riders came into view – three just ahead of the rest, a gap and then scores of others. We were all roaring encouragement, spectators banged on the boards of the barriers as the announcer, over the din of the crowd, managed to announce who had won – Dylan Groenewegen of LottoNL-Jumbo.

The crowd were running on adrenaline themselves now, enthusiastically cheering every single straggler… some of them putting on a sporting burst of speed even though they were at least 30 riders down.  The last few riders, cruising in having had a crushingly difficult day, got the biggest cheers and applause of all.

That’s what happens when the crowd is up for it. Infectious fantastic enthusiasm.

I fired off a load of shots on my Canon camera on Sports setting as they came through. It was only later, downloading the images to my laptop that the world of sprinters was revealed; rictus grimaces, contorted faces of pure animal aggression, poker faces of steely determination, tensed muscles shiny with rain and sweat and road dirt.

My successful racing cyclist brother used to refer to the visceral “red mist” of the sprint. My pics are amateur shots;  the focus is a bit off, the light wasn’t good but that red mist …. I fancy I can almost see it…


Dylan Groenewegen with the yellow-striped helmet, team LottoNL-Jumbo. He won the Tour de France sprint on the Champs Elysees in July – so the Promenade blast was a piece of cake.  To his left Orica Scott sprinter Caleb Ewan, who came 2nd and on the right  Fernando Gaviria of Quickstep Floors.









Lars Boom – eventual Tour of Britain winner.




World Time Trial champion Tony Martin of Katusha.





Vasil Kiryienka, Team Sky



Alex Dowsett (L) Movistar


Geraint Thomas. Pride of Wales as first Welshman EVER to wear a yellow jersey in the Tour de France but later, unluckily crashed out with a broken collarbone.


Nis Politt (Katusha) and Team Sky’s Owain Doull


Michal Kwiatkowski, Team Sky (R)

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Canoeing? Wye, I’d love to…

It seemed a long time since Mothers’ Day but the offer of a day out canoeing didn’t come with a time limit, so I waited until August.

A couple of years ago I enjoyed an idyllic day out with the eldest son on the River Wye, so I didn’t want to get back on the river in any old weather. I wanted it to be sunny delicious.

There were three of us, the boy, his girl Q and me. I thought we’d just share a Canadian canoe. It only meant hiring one craft and we could really give it some welly with three of us paddling.

The boy wasn’t having any of it. It wasn’t a competition, apparently. It wasn’t Us versus The Others on the river. So we were getting two Canadians and no, he didn’t fancy a kayak. We’d swap and change between two big canoes.


Sure, I’d been in a Canadian canoe several times but, um, not in one on my own. Oh well, it would be a test of my J stroke.

The J stroke is that thing you do to keep the canoe going straight when you’re sitting at the back, sternly controlling your course. If you didn’t do a J stroke to balance all the port-side paddling, you’d be into your starboard bank before you knew it.

I learned the J stroke some years back at about 3am when I was reading stuff on the internet because I couldn’t sleep. I thought I’d pretty much cracked it in my study, between the filing cabinet and the desk. The reality of water complicates things no end, but at least I had some kind of idea.

Turned out I was actually quite rusty but after about ten minutes, the stroke was resembling a J with a bit of S and Y thrown in. It wasn’t classically correct, but it was doing the job.

The Wye curves interestingly, flowing over gravel banks, little rushy bits and rocks just below the surface. The scenery includes lots of fields, bushes, a ruined castle, overhanging trees and occasionally a whole tree in the river.

I was just whingeing about the whole tree in the river and rhetorically asking why no-one had got it out because it was a terrible hazard to river traffic ie us. I should just explain that even in this blissful idyll of sun, cloud, burbling river and excellent company, I could still find time to channel my suppressed Eeyore. It’s called multi-tasking. So I was complaining hard about the tree when I was silenced mid-grumble by a flash of turquoise.


“Look! There’s a kingfisher sitting on a branch of that tree!”

Voice of Q from the stern: “The tree that shouldn’t be in the water, Jan?”

“Yes, that one…the wonderful wildlife habitat.”

Just as we’d both got a fix on the kingfisher, it moved to the branch of another bush overhanging the river. As I watched, it dived into the river like a dart and emerged with a silver fish about six inches long in its beak.

It didn’t hang around to let us watch it having dinner but flew fast and straight as an arrow down river until it disappeared out of sight.

That was just one example amongst the panoply of wildlife which kept us entertained – little egrets, snowy white against the green, herons, a young heron not quite in adult plumage having fishing lessons, ducks, goosanders, mute swans. There was also an unexpected show from someone doing twirly-whirly “Look mum, I’m going to crash…. Oh, no I’m not” death dive stunts in a bi-plane. You might think that doesn’t count as wildlife but if you were a passenger, I suspect it would feel pretty damn wild.

The nice thing about having two Canadian canoes is that if someone female who isn’t me gets stuck in her canoe on a shallow gravel bank and looks helpless, the other canoeist can go paddling to the rescue and give them a push off. Q even had the benefit a relaxing tow at one point. She needed a break, poor thing. She thought she had a blister coming.

The swapping between canoes mid-river was interesting. It’s all about your centre of gravity apparently. Crouching like a pensioner who’s had their Zimmer untimely ripped from their grasp and plonking a shaky foot over into the other canoe isn’t enough. You’ve got to shift your centre of gravity pretty sharpish before there’s an awkward canoe divergence with all its soggy disadvantages.

I had flashbacks to the boating lake at Evesham when I was about 9.  I was struck by precarious indecision while stepping out of my paddle boat on to dry land and at that moment, my 4-year-old brother decided to push the boat out.

I was hauled from the filthy water, dripping and vengefully indignant. I travelled home wrapped in coats, shivering in the back seat of the family Riley. My brother was sensibly given the protection of the front seat. “He didn’t mean it” they said but I had seen the glee on his face.

Fortunately, my brother wasn’t with us on the Wye so the canoe transfers were performed successfully, if somewhat gingerly.

We paddled into the shallows just past the bridge at Hay-on-Wye and managed to get out of the canoes without wet feet. There’s something special about hauling your canoe on to the bank of a new territory then going off to hunt for food.

Even though you’re heading to the Granary for some steak and ale pie, you still feel a teensy-weensy bit Indiana Jones. I was wearing a hat, which helps. You want to tell people “Actually, we paddled here…” but no bugger ever asks how you got to Hay. It’s almost as though they’re not interested.

Afterwards, back on the riverbank by the canoes, the reality of the next stretch of river loomed large. I wasn’t totally looking forward to it. I’d tried not to think about it, quite successfully, but now I was fighting off qualms. They were qualms about whether I’d be able to land us at the Boat Inn near Whitney-on-Wye where the Wye Valley Canoes  guys collect you and drive you back to HQ at Glasbury.

Last time, paddling at the front with the boy in control at the back, it was a pretty hairy landing. Quite hit or miss. Fortunately we hit, but we might easily have missed. There had been a lot of adrenaline.

After passing under Whitney bridge we had to pass various islands in the fast channel to the right of the river, then paddle like hell to go left and close enough to the landing stage. I had to stretch out and grab the scaffold pole while son jammed his paddle into the river to perform an emergency stop. The river was lively that day and we managed it, but I remember being very glad son #1 was in charge.

So you can see why, this time, steering at the back of the boat with Q at the front, I had a few qualms. Obviously I didn’t mention them. I’m British for goodnessake. One just doesn’t talk about qualms. Companions might find them uncomfortable and start fretting.

“We’re passing those islands to the right – then we’ll be going left to the landing stage, so look out for something to hang on to.” I warned Q.

We passed the islands, I steered left… up ahead there was the pub… with a fancy flight of new-ish steps down to the much bigger landing stage at the river’s edge.

Another group were just getting out of a Canadian canoe occupying the entire landing area. O. M. G.   They forgot to tell us how to throw a canoe into reverse and wait for a parking space!

Fortunately the river current was a purring pussycat compared to the tigerish surgings of last time.

We stilled the paddles, somehow managed to pause… then drifted gently into position at the landing stage.

It was super-smooth and relaxed – so much so that we looked for all the world as though we knew what we were doing!

The relief was palpable; so palpable that it was calling insistently for half a pint of Stowfords. Sorted. Indiana Jones would have approved.




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Goatsuckers and other crepuscular creatures

Some bits of the Forest of Dean are hardly forest at all.

When Canute ruled England in the 11th century, he named the Forest of Dean and excepted the top of Plump Hill, then wild and treeless and scattered with ancient iron workings, and called it The Wilderness.

It was not far from here that I met up with wildlife photographer and conservationist  Ben Locke. He knows a lot of the Forest like the back of his hand. He knows where the wild boar can be seen and good places to see the family groups with the little humbug piglets but that evening we waited as the light dimmed and the stars appeared, for something very different.

We stood on a path running through a clear-felled area. It was surrounded on all sides by woodland, some deciduous, some dense conifers. A few dead broken trees had been left standing stark like pale picked bones against the dark backdrop of woodland.

Ben was pretty sure we’d see a nightjar on the tall spear-like tree on the left.

A nightjar. I thought I’d heard one once but it was otherwise a bird unknown to me apart from images and illustrations in books.

A woodcock appeared, flapping steadily on its flightpath directly overhead, then another one, doing a circuit of the edge of the woodland, and another.

I’d only ever see one woodcock before. It was dead ‘un, hanging outside a butcher’s shop in Tetbury. I stared at its lustreless eyes and thought what a waste and what a pity my first sight of one of Britain’s shy native birds was that one, blooded and lifeless, ready for someone to pluck and roast.

But here, in the evening, there were woodcock, alive and doing their evening thing, patrolling their territories. Their calls were the weediest teeniest tweet-tweets imaginable – entirely disproportionate to their sturdy bodies and long bills.

A cuckoo called from the woodland – and then flew out to the topmost branch of a tree where I could see its head tick-tocking to and fro as it cuckooed! Another treat.

The light faded and bats appeared out of nowhere, flapping suddenly around us. They were much larger than pipistrelles, long-eared bats maybe.

It’s weird how I can be totally freaked out by a moth flapping towards me to the extend of sprinting in the opposite direction but stand unflummoxed by bats flittering around my head.

Not that there weren’t moths. There were. Small ones for the most part apart from the one I missed.

“Did you see that big moth?” asked Ben mischievously. “You must have heard it when it bumped into the fence?”

Ha. If I had, he wouldn’t have seen me for dust.

An owl was calling in the wood. Not the little owls that hunt where i live, screeching in the early evening, but a tawny owl. I’ve only ever seen captive tawnys and didn’t expect to see one that evening but about half an hour later, in the gathering dusk, there was a fine tawny owl sitting relaxed and fully fluffed out on a branch of the dead tree.

I admired him through my binoculars. He had his back to us but as I watched his head swivelled and his big round eyes blinked, looking straight back at me. Another thrill.

A songthrush sang a long and complicated song.

‘Did you hear that?’ said Ben. ‘You can hear a bit of nightjar call in the song. Songthrushes are great mimics.’

Some time later, when the woodland birds had fallen silent for the night, the muted call of a male nightjar began. It was distant – the extreme edge of the clear-felled area, but unmistakeable. They call it churring and it’s the perfect onomatopoeic description.

It was almost too dark to pick anything out with the binoculars but then we heard churring much closer – the nightjar was sitting on an upright branch of the dead tree – posed like a duck decoy might be displayed on a metal pole.

It churred the long distinctive cry.  Only the males perform this song. They don’t need to stop to take a breath because they use circular breathing – rather like digeridoo players. The only sign of the nightjar taking an inward breath was the slight change in tone.

They had not long returned from Africa. They will mate and raise young and then return. This visit was at the end of May so now, in mid-August, I expect the young are well-grown and whole families will soon be flying south.

They are curious, weird, remarkable birds. They only have small beaks but they catch insects on the wing by opening their mouths until there’s a 180 degree gape – hunting in the air for moths much like a basking shark collects his fishy supper in the sea.

Their scientific name is Caprimulgus or ‘goat sucker’ and comes from a superstition claimed to date back to the ancient Greeks that nightjars, with their wide soft mouths and habit of feeding near grazing animals, actually milk goats! In the Forest of Dean they make do with moths, flies and beetles.

I wasn’t quick enough to detect much when the nightjars changed position but Ben knew pretty much exactly where they were. One nightjar would disappear from its tree branch and then reappear in a different place – next time sitting in line with the branch, churring.

Males, with flashy white patches of feathering amongst the camouflage – as though someone has dabbed them with a loaded brush of brilliant white –  churr to invite females to join them. The calls are similar but they are all different and it’s possible to identify individual birds by their calls.

Their amazing camouflage means they can nest unseen on the ground on heathland and in young conifer woods.

May and June are the best months to go out at dusk and with luck, to spot the males displaying to females, flying around them and calling.

For me, the most amazing moment was seeing a nightjar fly overhead.

It seemed to be almost floating, with a fanned tail and its wings held aloft in a V shape before beating them together to create an audible clap!

Totally astonishing. So unlike any other bird I’d ever seen. An extraordinary and wonderful experience.


Click  here for much better images of nightjars by Ben Locke!


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The start of the rut

From now on, the hedgehogs will be rutting.

Yes, the concept is ludicrous. The word rutting is associated with hormonal stags locking antlers and battling across precipitous craggy outcrops overlooking outrageously scenic Scottish lochs and bonnie braes.

Hedgehogs are cute and spiny creatures who have no obvious means of attacking each other and for whom mating might seem precarious and painful.

Nevertheless, from mid-May to the end of June at least, rutting takes place. In hedgehogs, it seems to be mostly about circling and snuffling. The male circles the female, snuffling heavily and the female does a courtly little dance in time with him.

I’m not sure quite how long this goes on but it’s longer than my concentration span, which is roughly 45 minutes before I get cold or seize up as I’m usually crouched stock still in nightie and dressing gown when this stuff happens.

It’s a tremendous privilege, watching wild animals in your own garden and it’s good to know they are not becoming semi-tame, but on the other hand it does involve a lot of hiding and not moving to avoid them seeing you and trotting off into the bushes.

Fortunately, they don’t mind the security light and often trigger it as they are snacking on dropped bird food or crunching up the sumptuous hedgehog dinner provided for them every evening.

I was locking up the garage door the other night when I came across two hedgehogs on the path quite close.

One was undoubtedly Spiky Norman. He was curled up and gave the appearance of a huge spiky boulder, an immoveable object which another smaller hedgehog, looking very much like his Vale Wildlife hedgehog dating agency partner Tigs, was doing her best to nudge him into some sort of action.

She was enthusiastically trying to get her snout under him and move him. I could have told her there was no chance as he weighs at least one kilo but obviously this would have had little effect. So I watched for a while in case reluctant Norm emerged, then there was a scraping at the back fence, and in came another hedgehog about the size of Tigs.

She trotted right past the hedgehog buffet and entered the action stage right, joining in with the efforts to budge Spiky Norm.

Tigs, however, took strong exception to the interloper and demonstrated it by forcibly shoving her out of the way!

So began a bout of hedgehog sumo, on the path, right in front of me. They were moving so quickly that my phone camera couldn’t successfully capture stills without blurring but I did manage to take a couple of videos.

As you’ll see if I can get them to load, Tigs was by far the most determined little hedgehog, nosing the other competitor off the path and keeping the pressure on. The other hedgehog, realising she was up against strong opposition, adopted the tactic of spreading her four legs out to get a better grip and make it more difficult for Tigs to shove her out of the way. She resisted with all her might but she just wasn’t strong enough.

Such was the violence of Tigs’ shoving that at one point, she was pushing the other hedgehog almost into my phone as the hedgehog fought in vain to keep her footing.  I’ve never seen anything like it. Finally, both of them got so close to me that it was as if they suddenly saw me and thought “Ooops! Human! Scarper!”

The loser trotted back to the fence and disappeared through the hole while Tigs crossed the lawn into the long grass, and Spiky Norm, oblivious to it all, remained boulder-like.

Later that night, I surfaced from sleep to hear extremely loud snufflings from the garden outside. The volume meant it could only have been Spiky Norm suffused with amorous intent.

In the morning, the evidence was plain. At the back of the patch of long grass had been flattened by persistent hedgehog trampling.  Not so much a crop circle as a courting circle.  There may be hoglets….

I will, of course, keep you posted!

Video here



Spiky Norm, Tigs and the unsuccessful interloper…


Posted in Countryside, Current Affairs, Hedgehogs, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Soundtracks of a life

Last night, I went out into the dark garden and stood listening for hedgehogs.

It’s only three days since Spiky Norman returned with his new lady-friend Tigs and I hadn’t seen them – only the evidence of their messy dining at the hedgehog canteen.

But last night, the soundtrack in the back garden consisted of a breeze brushing the big palm fronds against the fence, croaking from the pond and the enthusiastic crunching of hedgehog food.

Spiky Norman was there, larger than life, relatively undisturbed by my presence, hoovering up his dins. It was good to see him back.

I had a glimpse of him by the light of my phone. I’ll didn’t try to take a pic but I’ll get some good ones when the evenings get lighter and warmer. Among hedgehogs I’ve observed in the garden, I believe Norm to be a most handsome fellow – certainly the biggest I’ve seen.

I start each day with a stroll around the garden, making mental note of the teeny changes day by day, checking the pond, watching the birds.

It’s too easy to take the sounds for granted. The first birdsong of the day is either a robin or a blackbird. Within minutes you might have a chorus of blackbirds, all singing from their own territories in gardens all around.

Sometimes, I might get woken by a pigeon but it’s not singing – it’s clog-dancing on the roof.

A pal, John Gamblin told me that BBC Radio Three has introduced Slow Radio to celebrate the sounds that people love as antidotes to the fast pace of life.  People like waking up to a couple of minutes of birdsong on the radio. He thought an audio file of the frog chorus would be good.

I think it would too, although people who haven’t heard it might not recognise what the noise is. Individual frog croaking isn’t hard to identify, but when all the males are singing together, their pale blue throats swelling above the water line, they sound for all the world like a pride of lions in an extremely good mood.

Just lately I’ve been listening to podcasts of Desert Island discs and it strikes me that you could have a similarly interesting revealing programme if subjects chose their favourite real life soundtracks instead of songs.

Listening to particular recordings that have strong associations would effortlessly take your mind back there.  It would be a wonderful way of slipping into a deep and refreshing night’s sleep. My top soundtracks would include…

Seagulls crying and waves breaking gently on a beach – shingle for the best effect.

Bees buzzing close and distant skylarks. The sounds of warm summer days.

The other-worldly calls of distant humpback whales. I later found out that although they sound like mothers and calves, they are males. Magic.

The frog chorus. Like big cats purring and especially soothing if I wake up in the early hours. .

Young buzzards mewling  mingled with the sounds of the River Wye rushing at the foot of Symonds Yat Rock. Maybe also the sounds of youngsters messing about in canoes.

The Welsh national anthem being sung at the Principality Stadium before a big game and the roar as the game begins.  Guaranteed goosebumps.

Leo cat purring loudly cwtched up next to me on the sofa.

The discordancy of violins, cellos, wind instruments tuning up, the tapping of a baton and the expectant hush before the first glorious bars of the Magic Flute Overture.

There’s one more soundtrack that evokes vivid memories.

In Reims, walking back to the hotel from dinner one night with Captain Sensible, strolling through the Cathedral precincts in the dark, we became aware of a soft hum…which turned into a low murmur… of voices. Such a lot of hushed voices.

We turned the corner of the front of the Cathedral and paused. Everything ahead was in darkness but we could feel and hear the presence of what must have been hundreds of people.

Curious, we sat on a wall at the edge of the throng to share the big secret, the reason for this huge, unexpected congregation.

After a few minutes, music started – muted, then dramatic… and the whole Cathedral front was suddenly bathed in light. It was the must incredible music and light-show, demonstrating  the history of the Cathedral. A real treat.

I didn’t keep a soundtrack of it. But I rather wish I had.

Oh wait. Here it is. But it was the sound of the hidden audience, waiting in the dark, that was the *really* special thing.

Posted in Birds, Cats, Countryside, Current Affairs, frogs, Hedgehogs, Uncategorized, Watery things, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments


So today, Spiky Norman came home.

There was no bunting or fanfare, which was just as well because, quite frankly, he displayed not a jot of recognition or gratitude.

He remained curled up in a big heavy spiky ball, like a somnolent mediaeval weapon, refusing to come out.

When I held him in my hands when he was maybe 10 weeks old, his spines were softer and his little feet had perfect, sensitive little leathery pads.  Today, he was far too spiky to hold without gloves and no cute little toes were visible.

He may have been sulking. He had been sharing his outdoor quarters at the Vale Wildlife Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre with a hedgehog lady-friend but like Norm, she was due to go back to her original home this weekend. So he was allocated another pal.

Norman’s new girlfriend hails from Oxfordshire.  She’s one of the Barford St Michael hedgehogs. I’m calling her Tiggy or Tigs for short. You can’t be surprised at my choice of name. She follows a long line of predictability including Woodie the woodlouse, Torty the tortoise, Puss the cat, Bluey the budgie and Scamp the dog. I feel it’s a mistake to devote too much energy and imagination on the names.

Funnily enough, I was just going to pick up the phone to call Vale Wildlife Rescue this morning to enquire about Norm when the phone rang and a voice asked me if I would like to pick up hedgehog number 4351. They were releasing some hedgehogs this weekend as it was milder than of late. Spiky Norm!  Why of course I’d go and get him!

Norm and Tigs the girlfriend, were handed over to me covered in hay in a big box.  Tigs was also an autumn orphan and about the same weight as Norm when she was taken into rescue.  She is now 900gs while Norman has topped one kilo.

I was originally intending to try and overwinter Norm in the dining room in a box with lots of cosy newspaper. I’d seen him and a sibling pottering about on the lawn and munching the food but they were obviously little more than babies. Then it got a lot colder very suddenly.

I saw him motionless on the lawn one night staring at the kitchen window as if it had all got a bit too much for him. He wasn’t worried about me picking him up, bringing him in and weighing him. He was too small to survive the winter outside but he could come in and it would all be fine as long as he didn’t mind the noise of the turbo-trainer in the dining room…

He was an enthusiastic eater and consequently, an enthusiastic pooper.  Like other hedgehogs, he wasn’t worried about the poop. It wasn’t in a particular place. It was everywhere – near the food, in the bedding…  The dining room was beginning to acquire a certain odour in spite of my frequent box clear-ups.


I couldn’t really see Norm and the family enjoying sharing a dining room on Christmas Day, so I called Vale Wildlife Rescue and they said “Bring him in. We’ve got nearly 300 young hedgehogs already.”

Shortly after checking in at his winter residence, Norm was weighed, checked for ticks and worms and settled into his new des res.

The weight gain was incredible. Between 11 December and 15th January he more than doubled his eight to 804gs. He was 864g when he was transferred to the hog unit where there is less human disturbance and hedgehogs are “hardened off” for the outdoors again. Their hedgehogs are all micro-chipped before release.

Going home, there was some rustling and movement in the hedgehog + hay box, but no-one tried to make a break for it in the car.

When I put the box down on the terrace, in contrast to sleepy Norm,  Tigs was eager to explore. She uncurled and walked around the box, bumping into the spiky lump as if to say “Hey. We’ve arrived somewhere. It smells interesting.”

Her nose was quivering with anticipation at all the new outdoor smells and she sniffed the air through the hole in the side of the box as I prepared the new hedgehog house for the residents.  I pushed a little hay inside the hedgehog home and tipped a good bucketful of dry leaves around and about that they could drag inside their home to get cosy.

Spiky Norman had a sibling of similar weight that I could not locate back in November and I have a theory that the sibling has carried on eating all through the winter and is probably still around, judging from the hedgehog food eaten every night.

I’m pretty sure Norm will like Tigs when he stops sulking. She has a fine skirt of light brown hairs and a cream patch on her nose. She is extremely inquisitive so there is always a chance that she will disappear on a big adventure tonight and we’ll never see her again. but I hope not.

I think Norm will recognise the smells of the lawn, the borders and re-discover the feeding station of his youth.

As instructed, I left them inside the hedgehog house and blocked the entrance for a couple of hours so they could get settled in. At 7pm, I opened up the hedgehog house and gave them their freedom.

There are two dishes of food out for their dinner tonight. The usual dish of dried hedgehog food and bowl of water, but also a dish of beefy cat food, as they’ve been used to eating wet food at the rescue centre.  I stocked up with mealworms too but I’m giving those sparingly as it’s not good for juvenile hedgehogs to have too many at once.

The nice lady at the rescue centre who sold me the new hedgehog house warned me that there was no guarantee that the hedgehogs would stay in the garden.

“Some do stick around but others just disappear and are never seen again,” she said.

Just before writing this, I stood at the back door in the darkness, listening for signs of activity. There was loud chomping from somewhere near the back border. At least one of them is still here at the moment ….

I’ll keep you posted.


Spiky Norman. Thrilled to be home.


Tigs up and about and ready to explore…


So where’s this new house, then?

Posted in Countryside, Current Affairs, Hedgehogs, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 12 Comments


If 2016 was a year where your natural order was turned upside down, where nothing is as it seemed, where people you respected turned out to be startlingly and disappointingly different, then read on.

If you weren’t much affected by the sea changes of 2016 or you thought it was actually a *really* good year and *really great* things will follow, then, stop reading now. Go for a walk or look at funny goat clips on You Tube. There’s nothing for you here.

So, first off, 2016 was the year the made me doubt the police, their powers, how they can take freedom so easily on the basis of nothing but someone else’s flaky word. Powerful, unjust and uncaring is a particularly toxic combination.

Then there was the realisation that in a referendum or an election for that matter, normal societal rules do not apply.

Unknown to most people until it was too late, it is apparently perfectly legal and acceptable to lie, manipulate, and present fake facts to the populace in order to achieve a desired result.

Perpetrators of misleading statements who “mis-speak” in the run-up to a referendum or election cannot be held legally accountable. So you can sue the garage that claimed you could fly your car to the moon but you can’t sue the party who made up a massive vote-catching lie and then said “Oh that thing on the bus. Well yes, that was probably wrong.”

It was the year I realised that a Prime Minister and his Government could completely cock up the organisation to a referendum so that that Joe Bloggs’ one vote could be the difference between ruining our economy by withdrawing from Europe, thus ignoring the wishes of almost 50% of the population.

It was the year I realised that America isn’t so great. I’d kind of got that impression by the way toddlers keep shoot their mums using the little toddler-friendly guns that mums keep in their handbags but the massive old-school racism that still exists in a modern free multi-cultural nation was a bit of a shocker.

It seems that a sizeable number of Americans who are just about intelligent enough to vote, have managed to hang on to ignorant, greedy, medieval, racist, sexist, small-minded attitudes that curtail freedoms.

It was the year I realised that Theresa May our unelected PM and Jeremy Hunt, the bad joke who is Health Secretary, will indeed allow the NHS and the wonderful doctors still in it, to go to hell. They ignore all the warnings and are watching the NHS break under a million strains. The warnings have grown over the past 2 – 3 years but were ignored.

All of the above did actually result in some people sinking into a funk of depression, of feeling de-stabilised and disenfranchised, of being isolated with their beliefs about equal rights, racial harmony, and the conviction that we are all neighbours on this precious planet that all nations need to care for. It seemed that kindness, caring for your fellow man was not the New Order.

I was one of the people for a while. It’s the first time in my life that I felt shell-shocked by current events. Friends and colleagues felt the same.

“We’ve sleepwalked into this,” one said.

“We didn’t realise. We should have done more.”

It’s true. But in my previous experience the political change has never been so brutal, so wrong, so based on what we now know were mass deceptions.

So, no more sleep walking.


I’ve always been opinionated but not a particularly rabid activist apart from donations and small actions supporting causes dear to my heart.

I resigned my National Trust membership in protest at them allowing fox-hunting on their land.

I’ve marched against the badger cull and been on night patrols to try to protect my local badgers from marksmen.

But in the last six months I’ve signed more petitions than the rest of my life.

I’m going on the anti-Brexit march in London at the end of March. I know it’s probably futile but I’m going purely to stand up and be counted; to demonstrate, physically, that I don’t want it.

I’m not going to sleep walk into anything else.

I’ve written three letters to my crappy local Tory MP because he’s the only one I’ve got and I’m going to lobby the crap out of him.

I’ve objected to a local planning application to build houses in the village where I live because it will spoil a nice view and create a precedent for more development in an unsuitable spot. There are plenty of boring places to put houses elsewhere in the village. without ruining the scenic. historic bits for us all.

I’ve written an impassioned plea to every single member of the Planning Committee. It may not make one iota of difference but I have made my feelings known. The decisive meeting is in March.

It’s 2017. Time to stand up for what we believe in and resist where necessary.

Like Germaine Greer said “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.”


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Gone with the wind

The forecast for Storm Doris,  Blustery Belinda, Slightly Zephyrine Zoe or whatever her name was, turned out to be a little over-blown.

A seafaring cove might have described the wind force in Cheltenham on the day Doris was expected as a “strong breeze.”

True, it was a cheeky kind of breeze; the sort that might make a lady squeal with embarrassment by lifting her skirt at an inopportune moment , dislodging a hat or turning her umbrella inside out.

I went out for a walk in the wind and rain hoping to observe people having umbrella problems but the streets were deserted.

Did people think they would be blown away like the black-clad nannies in Mary Poppins? Perhaps the local radio station had been issuing dire “Stay in your homes” warnings much as they do if there’s an inch of snow on the way.

I thought everyone – including pets and wild creatures – liked a stiff breeze.

While Cheltenham’s very unlikely to experience anything on the tornado scale of the Wizard of Oz, a Winnie-the-Pooh-style Blustery Day livens things up no end.

The air in the Promenade was full of pirouetting leaves, jackdaws doing that rocking and rolling thing over the tops of the plane trees and seagulls showing off their soaring and banking skills (I was going to type ‘doing funny terns’ but terns can be quite serious at times).

Wind drives cats scatty. They go wild-eyed, flatten their ears and run up trees while dogs race in circles or snow-plough their noses tail-waggingly through piles of leaves.

Wind is nearly always comedic, whether it’s flatulence or the sort of weather that results in people in wildly flapping mackintoshes fighting to control their umbrellas.

Trying to subdue an umbrella is nothing, however, compared with mobilising an entire family to stabilise a tent while watching their carefully pegged toilet tent being hoisted aloft and blown across a field into a barbed wire fence. That’s not quite so amusing, particularly if it happens at 5.30am and you are consequently desperate for the loo and there is no loo block.

My own umbrella turned inside out three times on the Quite Windy Day but I was the only person around so the amusement value was wasted.

You’d think that by now, the 21st century, we would have invented a more efficient way of staying protected from the wind and rain than the umbrella.  Umbrellas are just sooo 200 BC.  They’ve been around since Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang was entombed with his concubines and his terracotta army in 200 BC.  Who knows? Maybe James Dyson’s team of young inventors are coming up with some ideas that most of us can’t afford.

Walking back through the office car park, I noticed what from a distance looked like a grubby pink bag carrier bag someone had dropped.

It was the sad wreck of a discarded umbrella, sodden, properly blown inside out and ruined, with disconnected struts jutting out at insane angles.

It looked as though it had been destroyed in the wind and the owner had vented their spleen about its inadequacy by stamping on it. It would never be an umbrella again.

I picked it up by a strut and dropped it into the nearest bin.

Drat and double-drat.  I’d walked around half of Cheltenham and the comedy moment had happened with 20 metres of the window of my office.



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Party on

Writing this at 11pm on the 30th of January. All is dark in the garden but I can hear a small chorus of frogs.

These are the first frog songs of 2017. They are heralding the Spring.

This is the earliest I’ve heard the frog voices. For a couple of months now, the pond has been dark and the fish slow.

The duckweed has sunk, the waterlily leaves long since rotted. Only the Canadian pond weed endures.

The fish are torpid. It’s too cold to feed them. They lie in the water as if they are hibernating. The pond has been frozen over several times and their unfocussed slashes of colour – gold, red, yellow – glimmered from beneath the sheet ice.

Valentine’s Day is usually the time when the frogs assemble and are at their most vociferous in the pond. The males arrive, swim, swagger and sing, their pale blue throats pulsating proudly with the effort. There’s a lot of excitement as they wait for the females to appear for the annual party to start.

Last year, they were about ten days late. This year, who knows? They may be on time if the weather remains wet and mild for a week or so.

If we get a cold snap, they will all dive down into the depths and postpone the cavortings until it gets warmer.

February 1st update:  Well, the news just in is that the first arrivals aren’t wasting any time.


They seem to be enjoying themselves in glorious isolation just now at 11pm but it’s pretty early for party-goers so no doubt others will turn up later.

I just hope they don’t wake me up singing at 3am.


Posted in Countryside, Current Affairs, frogs, Pondlife, Uncategorized, Watery things, Wildlife | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to anyone taking the trouble to read this, my first blog of 2017.

That in itself might put you right off as it’s apparently very annoying to be wished Happy New Year after the first week of New Year.

As I got a ‘Happy New Year’ greeting from a patient last Thursday, I refuse to feel guilty. Anyway, it’s generally a good thing  when you work at a doctors’ surgery and don’t see a patient very often. It means they’re doing fine.  Probably.

Right now, there are far bigger things to be annoyed about in the world.  On the Scale of Annoyance, from Minor Niggle to Shaking With Rage, I doubt this blog represents more than an eye-roll.

Anyway, just think yourself lucky that I’m not going to talk about New Year resolutions. I didn’t make any. I just woke up on the first day of 2017 and thought that the best thing to do is take things as they come.

This is based on the fact that I started 2016 with some fine targets, then family life just got in the way in spectacularly awful style so my life wasn’t really my own for several months.

So this year, no targets, so no disappointment about not reaching targets. I’m not doing Dry January, I’m not doing de-toxing, I’m merely doing the stuff I enjoy – cycling as much as poss, running a bit, taking pics, never turning down a glass of fizz, eating carcinogenic toast, having too much gravy and generally appreciating things.

But I did do the important things at New Year – like walking and beachcombing on a couple of Welsh beaches.

Strolling with the family on Rhossili beach on New Year’s Day under mostly leaden skies was even quieter than usual – only about 20 other people on the entire stretch of sand! Maybe it was because it was a bit windy, scuffing the tops of the waves back out to sea and sending the seagulls rocking and rolling on the currents.  My Chinese daughter-in-law and I wrote HAPPY NEW YEAR in English and Chinese characters in the sand but our cheery greetings were all covered up by the time we walked back.

We were expecting to be able to gatecrash the Welsh brunch + fizz shenanigans at Eddie’s at Hill End  but it was all closed and in darkness, so maybe Eddie’s had enough of working on New Year’s Day.

While Rhossili is big and breathtaking viewed from above, my favourite beach, Mewslade, is a bit of a secret treasure. It gets filled up at high tide, but as the tide is retreats beneath blue skies in the low winter sun it’s dazzling and exquisite.

There were a total of eight people evident at different times and if perched between some rocks in the sun, sheltered from the bitter breeze,  it was actually beautiful and warm. At Mewslade, everything around you, apart from the actual limestone rock and grains of sand, is alive and waiting for the incoming tide.

If you pick up any shells on the beach, chances are they will have a sea snail or a hermit crab inside. Erosion has carved the limestone cliffs into innumerable clefts, caves and cups. The cups are home to clusters of teeny navy blue mussels, the rock is covered with living barnacles and the rock pools and rocks – even at eye level – wear shiny blood-red anemones just waiting for the next tide to extend their tentacles.

That day was a good start to January, a month that’s generally way too dark, too dreary, too dull, too wet for me.  The absolute best thing about this January is that the furry magnolia buds are swelling, daff buds are about to burst, the first snowdrops are showing snowy-white in the woods and January is nearly over!




Rhossili Bay and Worms Head








Posted in Coast, Countryside, Current Affairs, Seaside, Watery things, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments