Monthly Archives: Nov 2016

A Man Without a Smiling Face Must Never Write a Blog

Or, as the Chinese proverb says: A Man Without a Smiling Face Must Never Open a Shop. I’m dubious about many of these so-called Chinese proverbs, but the content is accurate, even if the attribution is not.

I’ve been unloading the stress of the day by complaining about roadworks, emails and various other things when I thought I’d look up the ten worst days in history. Compared to them I’m doing well. I have not been killed, tortured or rendered extinct today. Nor am I hungry, thirsty or in fear of my life.

In fact I’ve had a more than adequate day. It would have been better for the absence of roadworks, emails and the variety of other things that happened, but we did make jam and  biscuits, we did start to get the Technicolour Dreamcoat song right and we did have a visit from a representative of the Woodland Trust, who thanked us for our efforts in tree recording, gave us gifts and delivered copies of the latest report. It’s nice to be appreciated by someone. Sound people, the Woodland Trust, and I’m not just saying that because I’ll be needing a job in a month’s time.

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Our Woodland Trust Reports

Quite apart from the work they do with the farm, they have supported Quercus in various ways over the years and always treated the group with respect. Working with them is one of the main things we are going to miss when we leave because it’s a proper project with the possibility of important results. It’s a bit more serious than looking after a few hens or making biscuits, though I do like chickens and biscuits. Mainly biscuits, if I’m honest.

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Biscuits

 

Anyway, back to smiling – it makes everything seem better. I could have made myself quite miserable by moaning about my day, but instead I’ve made myself happy. (Though that may be because of the biscuits).

 

 

 

Christmas Cakes

Today I made a special trip to the farm to wrap the Christmas cakes once they had cooled thoroughly. It proved to be worth it, as I saw the heron again and took some better shots.

I then took more bird photos of varying quality, answered emails, wasted my life looking things up on the internet and entertained two visitors. Even if you add in the housework, Cash and Carry trip and tonight’s cooking it still doesn’t seem much work for a day.

I keep saying I will prepare in advance and write a list of jobs, but I never do. This must change.

Meanwhile, here are some photos. One is of the cakes and the other of a heron in flight. It’s tricky taking a flying bird with no viewfinder.

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Flying heron

Seven days to go

Yesterday we mixed the Christmas Cakes (using a Mary Berry recipe) and tied up some loose ends. As the day closed it started to sink in that we only have seven more days with the group. It’s starting to sink in for them too, as the rehearsals aren’t going too well and they are starting to worry about it. I’m not sure why – we’ve never bothered with high standards before and people still clap and enjoy it. It’s about the effort, not the quality.

The dancing is making progress but the Technicolour Dreamcoat number isn’t going too well and we haven’t even started on I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts. Fortunately this is our Christmas party rather than Britain’s Got Talent so there’s nothing but enjoyment at stake. Having said that, if we did enter BGT I don’t think we’d actually come last; bad as we are (and I personally can’t carry a tune in a bucket) I have seen worse.

We’ve had a rest from pom-poms as they all made their wreaths last week and took them home (before I was able to photograph them). I just need to make a few more then I may make a wreath, or I may allow the ladies to use them when we visit the Care Home for a wreath making session (though we keep saying we will call them garlands – same thing but without the funereal connotations).

Then again, I may just concentrate on cookery for the party – I want to make sure we go out with a good spread. We have a plan for a gingerbread wreath so I may make that instead.

The group did the poultry work as usual and replaced a faulty drinker, had a couple of walks through the trees, found a dead sheep, made a few individual craft projects, put up some Christmas decorations and did the composting, so it was a reasonably full day.

As part of the process of closing down we have given everyone their folders to take home. Some of them are inches thick with things they have done while they have been here, others (depending on how long they have been here, and how industrious they have been) are not quite so thick. Even so, there are a lot of memories in those folders and I’m beginning to feel a little maudlin at the thought of breaking up the group.

Feels like time for a bit of Housman. Nobody does maudlin quite like Housman.

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

 

 

Birds at Screveton

So, from birds at Rufford to Birds at Screveton. It may lack variety but once you have a good formula for a a title why change?

It started off with pied wagtails at the top of the lane, followed by a heron on the small meadow. Unlike last week I did manage to get a photo of it stalking the field margin. though they aren’t the best of shots.

I saw a Yellowhammer when we arrived at the centre but it flew off in a flash of yellow and wasn’t seen again.Most notable birds of the day were a House Sparrow and a female Reed Bunting. Apart from that we had Blue Tits, Great Tits, a Long Tailed Tit, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Pheasants, Red Legged Partridges, Chaffinches, Dunnocks, a Robin, Blackbirds, a pair of Buzzards, a Herring Gull and a small flock of Jackdaws.

The frustration of the day was that I just couldn’t get any decent photos. Dog walkers, members of the group asking “What are you watching?”, sudden noises from inside the building, shooting next door, camera batteries that ran flat – you name it, they all conspired against a successful day of photography.

The short day and long shadows didn’t help either.

 

 

 

 

 

Birds at Rufford Abbey

The walk started with me scanning the treetops for greenfinches, which were calling loudly, though they were quickly chased away by Fieldfares. I couldn’t get a decent photo because the twigs prevented the autofocus from working. That was followed by a photo of a blurred dot over the abbey as I failed to get a good shot of a circling buzzard. Bird photography is a bit trickier than buildings.

We decided to walk round the lake, a route which includes walking through woodland. The first birds we saw on the walk  were eating food someone had put out for them on a picnic table.  We saw blue tits, Great tits, chaffinches and (something I’d hoped to see) a Marsh Tit. I’m sure it was a Marsh Tit, though Willow Tits are very similar in appearance. In fact, Victorian ornithologists didn’t even know they were two species until 1897. The glossy cap and white stripe on the beak (which you can’t see on this photo) are good pointers to it being a Marsh Tit.

 

Further round, we crossed several bridges and took pictures of Tufted Duck, Coot, Moorhen, Mallard and Black Headed Gulls, though the light wasn’t very good and they were mostly blurred. many of the gulls were in their 1st winter, as shown by the brown feathers amongst the grey and white. I find I have difficulty with autofocus on subjects with white bits – the Coots  all came out looking like the heads were blurred. I also had trouble with a Magpie and the heads of the Great Crested Grebes.

 

On the main lake we saw Great-Crested Grebes in winter plumage and Greylag geese, finally walking round to the shop and tea room (where you can buy duck and goose food). We bought Bakewell tarts and tea, crumbling the pastry from the edge to feed the birds and provoking a minor riot.

 

When the boys were small (oh, how easily I fall into nostalgia mode) the Canada Geese were both numerous and aggressive, but these days there are only a few about, though they were quite aggressive in the pursuit of food from small children. There was also a small group of Egyptian Geese, which I always thought must have escaped from a collection somewhere. When I was searching for information for the link I found out they’ve been breeding in England for around 300 years, so it’s possible they might have been proper residents.

There also used to be a lot of rats around because people were over-feeding the birds. At one point the water by the tearoom used to be full of floating bread and the surroundings full of notices about not over-feeding. The current lack of notices suggests that people have become more sensible, as does the lack of rats.

You can currently buy duck and goose food from the shop for £3.50 a bag. Let’s say that at that price I’d rather be a seller than a buyer, as the bags don’t look very big. Next time I go I will take some of my own bird food. Once the cold weather takes hold the smaller birds will appreciate it, and are happy to comedown and feed. I may take a little bread too, but there really isn’t much danger of the ducks and geese going hungry.

The featured image is a Tufted duck – the white bits on his back are the water droplets from his recent dive.

 

Rufford Abbey

It was a lovely day  yesterday, crisp and sunny, and Julia decided we should visit Rufford Abbey. It was also the first day of her crusade to make me a fitter, healthier man, which, to be honest, did take a bit of the shine off the day for me. I know she’s doing it for my own good but a day geared towards exercise will always have a small cloud hanging over it.

When we arrived I cheered up a bit because it’s now on winter opening hours and that means weekday parking is free. I do like a bargain. They do a season ticket at £30 for 12 months – sounds good value too.

Rufford Abbey is fairly standard as country houses go – started as a Cistercian Abbey in 1147 and pottered on until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. It then became a private house owned by the Talbot family (Earls of Shrewsbury) – you can see the Talbots (hunting dogs) acting as supporters on the carved coat of arms above the doors. The owl under the large coat of arms refers to the Saville family, who eventually ended up owning it.

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Coat of arms of the Earls of Shrewsbury with Talbot supporters, and owl of the Savile family

Both families have interesting histories, but I’ll leave you to look that up for yourself if you’re interested.

Finally, the estate was broken up in 1931, and Nottinghamshire County Council bought the house and park in 1951. In 1956 they demolished two wings of the 17th century house to leave what we see today. I can’t see any council giving people planning permission to that these days. It still did better than other local houses. Clumber Park was demolished 1938, and Sutton Scarsdale Hall was allowed to decay after having the roof stripped off in 1919.

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Restored version of one of the old corbels

There are ice houses, animal graves, a bluebell wood (though not right now), tea rooms, shop, lakes, woodland walks, birds (which will be covered in my next post), a mill race and other things to see, but I can’t report on most of that as we didn’t see it on this visit.

It never rains, but it pours…

More pom-poms.

More dance rehearsals.

Creative differences with the big song.

Plus rain.

A visit from Social Services.

An accusing phone call from the Safeguarding Team.

Four weeks left and we are going to struggle to end on a high at this rate.

 

 

If that was a poem (and it could be, given the short lines and lack of rhyme) I’d call it Wet Wednesday Blues.

In fact, let’s have a go at that.

 

Wet Wednesday Blues

More pom-poms.

I wind wool in my sleep.

More dance rehearsals,

And rain on wet sheep.

Creative differences with the big song…

The sound of belly-dancing bells,

Give me dreams of being stalked by Santa.

If I had been a good boy, I would have presents, not 

A visit from Social Services

And an accusing phone call from the Safeguarding Team.

We are running out of luck,

But with just four weeks to go,

Do I give a fig?

 

I’ll be looking for at least one new career next year. Maybe I’ll cross poet off the list…

(Just to make it clear, we are in trouble for sorting something out ourselves and not involving Social Services and a ream of paper. Can’t really give much more detail – just to say that two weeks ago somebody not connected with the project made a remark that one of the group considered unacceptable and Julia sorted it out that day. It hasn’t happened again but it was reported to Social Services yesterday so they have to investigate.)

 

 

 

Staring boredom in the eye

Today, as you can see from the title, I stared boredom in the eye and it was boredom that looked away first.

The main job was going through hundreds of emails and tidying up the mess that we use as an email system. I have saved the ones that have information I need and will attend to them tomorrow.

Then I went on to the computer and cleaned up the documents folder. I’m not very organised so it took a bit of sorting, but eventually I realised I was on top of the job and after that it seemed to fly by.

With that finished, and all the information I need secured on a flash drive, I decided that it was time to treat myself to some time off so I went across to the men in sheds and cadged a cup of tea.

With the sense of achievement that comes from doing a job I’ve spent weeks avoiding, and the warm glow that comes from a free cup of tea, I’m feeling quite pleased with myself.

Julia is having a day off at a spa with my sister. It’s only a couple of miles from the farm so it seemed pointless driving home so I sat down to act like a martyr at the keyboard. I have a sore back now, from too much crouching over a keyboard, but I am happy. We are meeting up later this evening for a meal before my sister goes home, so no cooking and no washing up. What a result.

I did do a piece on this spa last time she went but that was about a year ago and I can’t find it. This is a nuisance as I will have to find some more links, and because I can’t link back to my own post. Linking back to your own posts, as I may have mentioned in this post, is supposed to be a good way of raising your profile in the blogging world.

Here is a brief history of Eden Hall. Scroll down to Elston Towers to find the information. Several people seemed to have blogged about it – try here, and here.

Before starting work I was even able to take a few photos I needed to finish off a post for the other blog. It doesn’t quite rank as something I’ve been putting off, but I haven’t been as industrious as I would like with the food blog, so it’s good to get another post published.

Now, enthused by my confrontation with boredom, I’m going to organise my camera cards.

 

It rained, we made pom-poms and played balloon ball

It’s rained all day, we don’t feel like using the kitchen because of the internal politics and I’m not eating biscuits.

So what do we do?

Well, we have to feed and water the chickens whatever the weather.

We also had a good moan about various things (centre left in a mess, one of the new toilets out of order, someone has thrown some of our stuff out of the kitchen).

We did a stock take of what we have left in the kitchen.

We picked the last of the chillies and the cape gooseberries

We made pom-poms. I managed 14 today. I explored a method I found on the internet – using a fork to wrap the wool round. I hope these photos explain it. It’s tricky getting it tied tight enough and fitting the scissors in, but it seems to work OK for producing small pom-poms.

A fork with longer tines may have been better (as would sharper scissors) and I’m just wondering how much wool you’d need to wrap a garden fork…

Then we played indoor balloon volleyball/tennis. It’s a game  we invented last year using a large balloon. The rules are not fixed, the umpiring is abysmal and the scoring is random, but it seems to work. So far nobody has died playing, we’ve had no tears, and we haven’t damaged the building (though as we’re under notice to quit I’m not sure I’m bothered).

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Indoor Balloonball – just look at the speed of that serve!

 

As we told the group – only boring people get bored.

 

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), spam and me

I thought about using the title “What Hemingway taught me about Blogging” but it probably wouldn’t do my Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) much good. (Note how I managed to slip the bulk of the title into the first line. Get used to it, you’ll be seeing it several more times before you get to the end of the page. That’s SEO for you.)

On top of that, he didn’t actually teach me anything about blogging. He taught me lessons about writing, bullfighting and firearms safety, but he’s useless on blogging. Not his fault of course, as it didn’t exist in his day. Even Nostradamus is strangely silent on SEO, despite his claims to see into the future.

My spell-checker just picked up Nostradamus and suggested Stradivarius. I can’t help thinking that the world of violins would be a different place if spell-checkers ran the world.

So, in my customary bumbling way I will now shelve the Hemingway reference for later use (it was going to be a post about land ownership) and move on to SEO.

It’s a rare day when I turn on the computer at work, read the spam, and don’t find at least one offer to improve my place in Google’s rankings by someone claiming to be (a) highly effective and (b) reasonably priced.  I’d take them more seriously if most of them could actually write grammatical English. Call me old-fashioned and curmudgeonly if you want, but if someone is asking for money to improve my written work (albeit by merely inserting key words and links) I’d like to think that they are reasonably competent.

While I’m struggling to work out whether “optimisation” or “optimization” is going to bring better results they are serving up gems of jargon and sentences that look like they’ve used a translation service.

Kindly revert back if you are interested, then we can send you more detail about package/action with special Offer. I look forward to your positive mail.

Still, they write better than the representative of the Libyan Government who got in touch this morning to offer me…

…I suppose he really was from the Libyan Government, and not just spam, I mean he said he was, but the fact he used a gmail account makes me slightly suspicious that he might not be telling the truth.