Friday, 19 May 2017

OF MICE AND . . . BIRDS

If there's one thing I really enjoy every day it's feeding the wildlife in my garden. This week has been particularly fun with an abundance of sightings, but not just in the garden.

We're just getting into warmer temperatures now, and on Wednesday of this week it was warm enough to sit out in the garden and have breakfast. So I purposely fed the birds before sitting down to quietly eat my muesli. I never have to wait long. Sometimes I don't even make it up the back steps into the house before the Starlings descend. Energetically they hoovered up the mealworms in just a few seconds, pecking each other out of the way, before moving on to my neighbour Pauline's garden for a second course. We have one particular Starling, which I've noticed perches on a particular branch, which is a perfect mimic of other birds, and even the crying of a neighbour's baby!

Then came nature's announcement that summer had arrived, as several screeching birds swooped down through the garden at unbelievable speed. The Swifts had returned!

The Sparrows are comical, almost like unruly teenagers, lazily hanging around my garden all day, making a racket that seems like they are gossiping with each other, whilst enjoying the safety of cover, usually in the dense ivy or fir tree. The ivy though is starting to get quickly out of hand as it has literally burst into rapid growth in need of a slight rim I think otherwise I'm soon not going to be able to get down to the garden to feed the wildlife.


Most of the birds are now starting to perch inside the birch as it reaches full leaf, so that provides a better opportunity to see them. On this particular morning I realised there were more than the usual number of Sparrows, when it dawned on me that I was watching new fledglings. That was a great treat.

The blackbird hangs around most of the day as well, and his song is a joy at the end of every day. Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Crows, Wood Pigeons, Collared Doves, Magpies; all visitors in that breakfast time period.

The other "wildlife" in my garden habitat are two field mice. The have their own corners and are quite bold. Unusually they are out during the day, and one very small one, a picture of who ends this blog, seems unphased by my presence, and sometimes even sits atop a pot while I put food out, patiently waiting. I do worry about him, as though I have a pretty good fence all around, a persistent cat of a neighbour occasionally gets in. On Thursday this week I spotted it, slinking away slowly. Slowly that was until it heard me thundering down the stairs in hot pursuit!

Pauline also has a field mouse in her garden, which occasionally pops through to mine to steal food, and I noticed during the day that it's food had not gone. I checked a few times and it remained there all day. I was getting concerned that the cat had found its prey. Later that night, after dark, I decided to take a torch for one last check. Maybe it had been spooked by the cat and decided to return to nocturnal activities. To my relief, not only was the food gone, but he was there, on top of Pauline's narrow, thin, metal, six-foot bird table, shimmying down one of the narrow legs, upside down. It was very funny to watch. Pauline had seen this once before but I never had, so I was very lucky with my timing.

Away from my garden earlier in the week, whilst walking home late one night along a local lane, I was swooped by three bats out catching bugs. But the best siting of the week was driving home late one evening from seeing a friend in the country. On a long straight stretch of road, up ahead, illuminated by a trucks lights going the opposite way, was the white underside of a large owl, gliding through the air, across the road, to a small wood on the opposite side. I pulled over into an adjacent layby, switched off the lights and engine, and waited patiently. It didn't reappear, but it hooted several times. A very spooky but fabulous sound.

Pauline has topped all these encounters this week though. She is away up north on holiday and witnessed her first enormous Sea Eagle. Very jealous. Can't wait to hear all about that.

Meanwhile I'll be quite content with my Sparrows and mouse.



Friday, 12 May 2017

LIVE YOUR DREAMS

One of the best films of recent times is a Ben stiller movie called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I'm in the process of looking more closely at this film, deconstructing it, with a view to teaching my young students about it. It deals with a number of issues that may affect the majority of us, and it is this that makes the film so good I think. It is no coincidence that it is set at Life magazine.

If you haven't seen it, basically it is a quest movie about a daydreaming, boring photo processor, Walter Mitty, working at Life magazine in its last days before going online. He loses a negative, a first for him, for the last issue's cover, sent by one of the photographers, Sean, twho is the only person that recognises Walter's skills. The film takes us on an epic adventure from shark attacks in Greenland, to volcanic eruptions in Iceland and Snow Leopards in Afghanistan.

To mark the beats of Walters quest throughout the film, he regulalrly gets calls from Todd of eHarmony, asking what else he can add to Walter's profile to make him more interesting, to increase his chances of finding a partner. Part of what makes Walter so boring, is his scrupulous accounting of his finances, which stays all the way through. A sort of count down to oblivion for him, down to zero dollars. His first job had been in a pizza restaurant called Papa John's, and he finds himself in one on Iceland. As he studies the plastic cup, after first checking his dwindling finances of course, he suddenly has an urge to get out of there. Away from the superficial plasticity of an international food chain, a metaphor for the world. This marks the point where Walter starts to change. Working for money and counting every bean is a waste of a precious, short life. This is reaffirmed by Life magazine's motto all the way through the film:

"To see things thousands of miles away,
things hidden behind walls and within rooms,
things dangerous to come to,
to draw closer, to see, and be amazed"

Though Walter had worked at Life magazine for a long time, his role was obscure, and a bitter sweet reminder that modern technology is changing everything, including the security of all our jobs. In essence, if you aren't creating something new, you're replaceable.

We're not here long at all, and we're really good at excuses, busy living up to what other people think we should be doing. But the bottom line is, stop doing what you hate and go out and live your dreams.

At the end of the film Todd from eHarmony appears and ask Walter if he is zoning out still, daydreaming. Walter pauses a moment, reflecting on what he's experienced, before he answers . . .

"Not so much"

Friday, 5 May 2017

DISCO DIVA

A couple of weeks ago I was in Carlisle for a wedding. I wasn't able to make the actual ceremony, and arrived just in time for the evening celebration. It's been a long time since I've been to a wedding reception, and on this occasion I thought I'd dropped through a wormhole, back in time.

As people gathered, the DJ, incomprehensible on the microphone, started his play list for the evening. Someone leaned over to me and told me that the same guy had run all the hotel's disco needs since 1979.

Well, I don't think he's bought any music since then either!

However, 1979 was a great year for music. I was 16 at the time, and on a Friday evening I would travel into Edinburgh to Cinderellas, an enormous disco at the bottom of St Stephen Street. I recall I wore black trousers that had a thin white line down the seam of each leg, that I had to lie on the floor to squeeze myself into.

Most of the other young people there were busy sneaking in bottles of vodka in their handbags, and so on. But for me, it was straight onto the dance floor. Many of my friends knew how much I loved to dance, and I was pretty good, though I say so myself, and they would follow me onto the floor. The DJ must have loved me too, because I was regularly the first on, and rarely left.

It was probably a subliminal influence of the disco at the wedding reception, but in the middle of this week I found myself researching hits that I remember from the charts around that time. How many of these do you recall:

Le Freak - Chic: Loved this one, sitting on the floor doing particular moves, and I always led from the front.
YMCA - The Village People
Don’t bring me down - ELO
Tragedy - Bee Gees
Video Killed the Radio Star - The Buggles
Pop Muzik - M
Light My Fire - Aimii Stewart
Rivers of Babylon - Boney M
The Shuffle - Van McCoy
Crazy Little Thing Called Love - Queen
Funky Town - Lipps Inc

Then there were others I came across, which though not dance music per se, brought back fond memories:

Monster Mash - Bobby Pickett and the Crypt Kickers
Walking on the Moon - Police
Enola Gay - Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
Another Brick In The Wall - Pink Floyd
Oxygene part IV - Jean Michel Jarre
19 - Paul Hardcastle

Unfortunately there wasn't a single one of the dance tracks above that the Carlisle hotel DJ played that night, otherwise I would have been first on the floor, and would most likely not have left.