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.

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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!

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Rhossili Bay and Worms Head

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Mewslade

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

Mo-laughing matter

So this guy was talking about his trip to the dentist….

The 45 minutes he spent with the hygienist and the 15 minutes with the dentist and the £95 bill and the buying of the new toothbrush and accessories…

How he’s got to go back in 5 weeks after he’s been cleaning his teeth with the new electric toothbrush and the new teeny in-betweeny orthodontic brushes he’s been told to get…

And have you heard the latest? No, me neither. It’s now recommended not to rinse the toothpaste out of your mouth. Nope, you just LEAVE IT THERE

What ridiculous fresh hell is this?

First Brexit

Then Trump

Now you’ve got to leave the toothpaste in your mouth….

Oh and when you go to bed, just get a little nub of toothpaste and massage your gums with it.  So you go to bed smelling, tasting and no doubt feeling, a bit menthol.

My reaction?

Total Princess Anne. Naff off.

It’s supposed to be all about the teeth but a lot of it is all about the money with private dentists.

Basically this guy’s just spent £120 on a dental maintenance kit because the dentist, who will be charging about £150 to see him twice, deems it necessary.

They are unashamedly making their fortunes squeezing the spondulix out of hapless patients who take everything they say deadly seriously, even though you cannot die of bad teeth. Well, perhaps you can but the simple remedy would just be to remove them.

But no, no-one takes out dodgy teeth these days.

A couple of pals who have had “root canal work” have been relieved of more than £500 for the privilege of keeping that single molar near the back that no-one sees anyway.

One pal, who was quoted £650 for the essential root canal work she needed, actually thought “Wait a cotton-pickin moment… isn’t that a tad expensive?”

She’s from Guildford so no she didn’t think those precise words but stick with me as I attempt to pique your interest.

“My dentist is good” I told her. “I went to him about a year after I got frightened to death by a woman dentist.”

She was supposed to be doing a filling for me but I swear she was going to drill into the bottom of my tooth until she reached the earth’s core.  It was still tooth-hurty  (the traditional Chinese dentist appointment time) three months later.

“£650 sounds a lot for one tooth. I mean, how long can it take?” I said.

“I bet my dentist would give you a quote for a root canal.”

He did. He quoted her nearly £400 for the same work. Still eye-watering but hey, a saving of more than £250.

She rang her dentist and left a message, very fairly and amicably, I thought, to say she was swapping dentists to get the work done at a more reasonable price.

That same evening, her expensive dentist phoned her at 6.30pm and berated and cajoled her for half an hour.

His tactics ran the gamut of “Why on earth are you changing dentists?” to “What’s he actually quoted you for?” to “Well, at that price he can’t be much of a dentist” with dire warnings that she was effectively placing her dodgy but prized molar in the hands of a snake-oil specialist.

Quite remarkable that a professional registered dentist could behave like a double-glazing salesman who lost out on the deal.

I thought she could have reported him to the dentists professional body but she didn’t. She just happily got her molar done and saved £250.  It wasn’t even Black Friday.

 

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Perky sauntering

I once overheard someone saying ‘When I see a runner smiling, then I’ll run.”

Well, when I’m out for a trot, I do smile but you’d have to say something vaguely amusing, obvs. To be fair though, compared to proper runners in those ridiculously high-cut satin shorts, my trot is not so much a run as a perky saunter.

Sauntering perkily yet smoothly gives you time to see things, to stop and stroke the soft pony noses or pet any puppy that might become available. It’s a comfortable state to be in.

I rarely take a lunch-hour at work but when i do it’s to go for a trot with a work pal and it’s the kind of relaxed pace where we can chat and bitch freely all the way without getting out of breath.

Other runners pass us. They are usually blokes with the kind of legs that do an entire running track in thirty paces. They wouldn’t even know what a perky saunter was.

They don’t acknowledge us. But neither do other runners. Broadly-speaking, runners are not friendly. They are in the zone. They are too important to nod or raise a hand in greeting like cyclists do. They really don’t want to know you and fear that if by mistake you catch their eye, then you will suck all the running energy out of them and they will stumble and collapse in a small pile of dust.

If a woman passes us – and you may be shocked to learn that some occasionally do – we make might an attempt to switch the gas on and catch her up. It’s our dream to catch up and overtake, the two of us running past like gazelles, wind in our hair, ponytails swishing (no neither of us has a pony tail) and powering to victory (or at least round the corner) boobs leading the way like in Chariots of Fire.

This never happens, obvs, but it doesn’t stop us being gloriously ridiculously unrealistically aspirational. Plus, if we can’t catch her, it’s fine. We’ll just bitch about her huge ass.

So we just carry on sauntering perkily around Pittville Park lake in Cheltenham, promising that one day we’ll stop and have an ice-cream at the boating lake. We pick up the pace a bit after the half-way point.

“Seriously, I think this is downhill,” I say. I’m full of encouraging twaddle.

“You think?” she says. “Feels like flat to me.”

“Are you in the zone yet?” my pal will sometimes ask.

“I was for about two minutes back there but the woman with the pushchair got in the way. Are you in the zone?”

“No. I’m still waiting.”

“Have you ever been in the zone, actually?”

“I don’t think so,” she says.

“But we’re doing well. We’re actually running. That’s *really* good,” I say encouragingly – and we laugh ironically.

Anyway, I’ve never wanted to do running properly. When you see people you actually know out running, it puts you off. Their faces look so different; grotesque, even.

For instance, I was out with the dog one day and we were just about to go over a stile when this guy – I’d socialised with him, babysat his kids, had dinner at his house – approached from amongst the trees.

He was a tall gangly guy with shortish blonde slightly wavy hair and steel rimmed thick glasses. Normally, he was smiley, slightly reserved and softly-spoken.

As he thumped towards the stile, he looked like he was in a state of near-fatal collapse. His arms were waving about randomly and sweat was flying off his florid, desperate Munch ‘Scream’ face.

I stood back to let him over the stile. He had no breath to say anything as he climbed over so just nodded recognition as his blood-shot eyes met mine before he staggered on heavily across the field.

You could tell his pleasure in being alive was somewhat dimmed.

I spotted one of my neighbours, really nice woman, quite smart, good taste in clothes, out jogging. She was wearing a lardy-thigh-hugging track suit, clutching a water bottle and stumbling uphill as if she too would be better off dead.

You don’t really look like that when you’re sauntering perkily. It’s running but not as we know it, Jim.

My pal and I warm down about five minutes from the office so that we arrive back looking insouciant rather than vaguely alarming. Oh, that’s apart from the time when we did 5k by mistake on a warm day in July. Then we arrived back at work looking like a pair of freshly skinned plum tomatoes. You can’t win ’em all.

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Fearful tadpoles!

It’s excellent how an exclamation mark can make such a difference to a statement of fact, which was otherwise pretty unremarkable.

The exclamation has rendered those two words so very Wodehousian. Ok maybe it’s just me. I admit I’m just a tad bally obsessed with Wodehouse and his humour.

But back to the tadpoles. They’re really not that bad. In fact they are totally fascinating and this year are doing better than any other year that I remember.

This morning’s pond watch was interesting because the tadpoles have learned fear. I’m not talking just instinctively reacting to a shadow and swimming from the surface for 30 seconds and then coming back.

I’m talking proper instinctive frog fear… where they disappear into a puff of mud and stay there until they really need to breathe or think the threat is over.

It’s interesting that this fear has manifested itself after the back legs have formed but before the front legs.

The whole metamorphosis thing fascinates me. I have no idea why more people don’t find it miraculous. I mean, here we have a well-known creature that actually starts as a simple blob of cells and completely changes its form without any kind of hibernation or pause in development.

I haven’t yet read anything which indicates that scientists know precisely how or why this happens. Sure they now know about frog DNA and the influence of hormones. I read this morning that they’ve even made sterile transgenic frogs but they can’t replicate metamorphosis. It’s still a mystery.

Somehow or other the cells just change according to the pattern set out in the genes and create a completely different creature which is capable of adapting to its environment.

A lot of the home-grown pond frogs are prettily marked black and yellowish green which suggests they have developed a camouflage from living beneath the variegated ivy, which is yellow and lime green. When frogs gather for the big mating orgy in February, it’s very obvious who the visitors are. One this spring was almost wholly yellowish while another was deep terracotta red.

Not only that but as evidenced now, the brain develops to match the creature and the creatures’ development adapts to the environment. They must have some form of communication or ability to synchronise because, even more weirdly, they tend to make their move from pond to dry land all together on the same day. Cloudy damp days should be the best conditions for them to go over the top and seek damp cool places in long grass or under rocks.

They don’t always get it right. There have been hot June days when their sadly desiccated little bodies have been littering the brick edge of the pond. Rather like the one little black turtle hatchling that was spotted by a little boy on the beach in Mexico as it struggled it’s way through the soft sand while sunbathers read their books and drank their lagers unaware of its presence.

The boy alerted his parents and soon even the readers and sunbathers were on their feet to form a protective guard of honour against potential bird strikes as the turtelinni flapped its way wildly through the sand to the sea. It was a beautiful moment when it paused, exhausted, on the damp sand and the next second was swept up by the Caribbean to begin its new life. Everyone applauded. It was a good example of how, occasionally, tourism actually benefits wildlife.  Without the tourist guard of honour, turtelinni would undoubtedly have been picked off by a sharp-eyed great-tailed grackle.

But back to the tadpoles… This year they are bigger than ever before. They are fatter with longer, massively strong tails. I’ve no idea why this is. A heron cleared the pond of nearly all the fish about three weeks ago, so maybe they have been pigging themselves on fish food, but it’s odd.

It will be interesting to see if they make super-frogs.

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No raining on my parade

Ok, stand by to be hit by the oddest thing…

But first, picture the scene; the Dara O’Briain comedy gig in the Tata Tent, the biggest venue at Hay Festival.

I was sitting about 10 rows back with a genial and huge rugby-player of a bloke to my right (when I say huge, I mean his armpit was in my eye-line) and a skinny woman with a blonde bob sitting on my left.

I’d exchanged greetings with both when I sat down so we were cool.

The guy was loving Dara, rather like me. The entire audience seemed to love him. He was going down a storm but actually nothing to compete with the thunder claps exploding overhead and what sounded like an apocalyptic rainstorm.

Dara had to shout to be heard over the ferocity of the tumult outside and said he’d never had to deliver his lines Nuremberg rally-style before.

It just got more and more hilarious as the thunder and torrential rain continued, with Dara pitching a vision of us all the only survivors as the storm washed away the rest of the festival. Everyone was in stitches.

But the blonde woman did not react. She didn’t laugh once. At anything. Not even inwardly.

I don’t think she was even laughing inside.

She got increasingly twitchy.

Watching her in my peripheral vision, a small part of me was a little concerned that she had a medical problem. She was about to have a fit, a stroke, explosive diarrhoea or projectile vomiting. I usually try to avoid people will any or all of these things.

She was a bit off-putting, to say the least – especially as she kept turning to look in my direction, but she may have been just looking at the doors. I studiously ignored her and concentrated on Dara and his foul-mouthed but hilarious and intelligent comedy.

But a still small part of my brain was thinking “Is there anything in my bag that could possibly double as a sick bag? No. Only the bag itself. Ewww.”

Meanwhile Blonde Neighbour swished her hair, wrung her hands, smoothed her trousers and seemed entirely ill at ease.

Then at one point in the show, she asked to write something on the notepad I had on my lap.

This was entirely unexpected. If she was about to have a fit or a stroke though, maybe this was going to be her last will and testament… or maybe she was agitated because she’d forgotten to order something from Ocado that was going to be delivered tomorrow.

I looked at her quizzically. I hardly ever let people use my pens, yet it seemed churlish to refuse this weird stranger.

In shorthand, she wrote ” This is so fucking awful.”

She handed back the notebook and pen and looked at me with a terrible desperation.

I wasn’t sure whether she meant my laughter, Dara’s jokes or what. I didn’t much care. It sounds heartless but hey I was at a comedy gig, not about to take on some stranger’s psychiatric case. I just shrugged my shoulders, turned over the page and went on taking in the comedy.

I don’t know why she didn’t just go. I have no idea why she decided to share that with me as I was just sitting there being a normal member of the audience.

It can be a downer sitting next to someone at a concert or comedy show that is just not getting it. But actually, I refuse to take on anyone else’s bad mood. They can stuff it where the sun don’t shine.

I should have written in shorthand back “Kindly do not rain on my parade, you miserable fuck.”

But obvs, I didn’t. I am laughing as I type. I don’t look the kind of woman to say that sort of thing and it might have shocked her into a fit… or even worse, further shorthand conversations!

As Dara O’Briain said at the beginning of the gig “If you’re the kind of person who laughs inwardly, then could you fuck off and stop taking the chair of someone who laughs outwardly?”

 

Dara

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