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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Local again

So the Oven Repairman went and I headed out. It was chucking it down so I left the camera at home.

At Amwell there were loads of Canada Geese, Common Tern with chicks on the raft, Redshank, Ringed Plover and a Green Sandpiper being the highlights.

Headed onto Rye Meads, lots of young birds but highlights were Ruddy Duck Chicks (aw) and Tufty Chicks diving away. Looks like some Terns have fledge, great fun watching Terns return with fish. Young Kestrels in the box and a Kingfisher seen leaving the bank.

Wretched weather but relaxing.

Oven repaired

I am sure you will all be pleased to know that my oven is now working.

The chap came on time! Took the oven out and did some "tests". Apparently the clock alarm timer was faulty, well I never use it so it was just disconnected and the oven worked. The element was giving dodgy readings so he replaced that.

Total cost £75.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Bald Eagle conservation.

I read that the Bald Eagle has been taken off of the endangered and threatened species list in the USA. The bird has recovered from a low of 417 pairs in 1963 to 9789 in 2006 in the USA (excl Hawaii and Alaska).

There are concerns though with how the Eagles will compete for habitat on lakes and river shores with man. Landowners want to build on these shores and have complained that the Eagles status meant they were unable to.

All is not plain sailing for the landowners
recent modifications to the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act mean it now covers the bald eagle

Thursday, June 28, 2007


I was watching the first episode of the new BBC2 three part series on Paris. And an enjoyable hour it was.

The first episode City of Dreams reveals how Paris battled through turmoil and revolution to become the city we know today, though we were shown many of the common landmarks we did see some that the average tourist would know nothing about. The programme went into the sewers and visited a restaurant famed for its discreet boudoir lounges.

The programme also explained that two of modern Paris's most photographed landmarks, the Basilica of Sacré Coeur and the Eiffel Tower, were hated when they were first built (Art critic Brian Sewell still hates Sacré Coeur).

I thoroughly enjoyed the programme and sat there thinking ooh would like to go there and what about there and.......

The Programme was presented by art historian Sandrine Voillet who was educated at the
Ecole du Louvre and is now director of a private collection. Voillet is immensely watchable she is undoubtedly knowledgeable and enthusiastic of her subject, she has that wonderful French accent and is very easy on the eye . Why is it that French woman seem so stylish and elegant?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Britain's Best Museums and Galleries by Mark Fisher

After recommending Britain's Best Museums and Galleries I thought I had better buy it and review it. The book is normally £20 but I got it for £13.20 off of Amazon. I ought to stress that before recommending it I had browsed it.

The author, Mark Fisher, has been a Labour MP since 1983 and a formerMinster for the Arts.

The book features 350 reviews of the "best" Museums. A further 100 get mentioned in the regional introductions and get listed in a separate appendix. Each reviewed Museum get a star rating from * to *****

It does not, and should not be expected to, feature opening hours.

Firstly the gripes. The book is broken into regions and not counties , this I can understand but the breakdowns are arbitary and as I'll detail flipping confusing.

Fisher has chosen not to follow an established regional breakdown, he could have chosen the ones the National Trust use or English Heritage or Hudson's Historic Houses but he hasn't.

Here is one example of where the ordering is bizarre.

The county of Buckinghamshire is included in the South East Region, West Midlands and East Midlands!! BUT each region has a different entry! Hertfordshire is also included in the same three regions and Bedfordshire in the two Midlands regions.

Hertfordshire has Walter Rothschildd Zoological Museum in Tring under West Midlands, the Verulaneum Museum St Albans under East Midlands and the Museum of St Albands under South East. That is not helpful is it! Even funnier is that in the appendix for the East Midlands is a museum in Watford!!

As I say the same happens for Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Amusingly the Ascott Collection (Ascott House to you, me and the National Trust) is listed as being in Bedford (Leighton Buzzard) , the actual entry gives the address as Wing, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire but Wing is in Buckinghamshire!!

Another bug bear is that though the index entry and the start of each region is by place name (not collection) that though this ordering is maintained in the section the place name is omitted. To be fair the index entry contains the page number.

This all felt a bit sloppy to me.

Another thing is names. Buckignham Palace is not called Buckingham Palace but the Queen's Gallery. Which strikes me as bizarre.

But the entries. Fisher reckons that including National Trust collections etc there are some 2000+ museums so he undboutedly has had to cull to reach a still fairly substantial book. Fisher seems to agree with Simon Jenkins that a church/cathedral should be considered a museum but he includes none of them. He will undobutedly argue that Jenkins own England's 1000 best parish churches covers this in much greater detail than he can but he includes the Sandham Memorial Chapel.

His choice of houses and ratings thereof do not, and indeed should not, tally with Jenkins 1000 best English Houses. Jenkins is concerned with the architecture of the house as well as the quality of the contents which is Fisher's raison d'etre for his book .

I have not visited many of the pure museums he mentions but some of the National Trust and private house collections make it into the book and his choices are interesting.

There are two fine houses near Banbury in Oxford. He omits Broughton Castle (one of the 20 to get ***** in Jenkins) but includes Upton House which Jenkins rates lower (both of which I visted recently). And I think both views are right. Broughton is a beautiful building and FEELS like a house, Upton is effectively a museum and the collection is finer.

There are omissions, inclusions that I find bizarre. Kingston Lacy relegated to an Appendix but it was ever thus.

There is a certain eclecticism here, he includes Kew Gardens for instance which wouldn't be my first thought as a Museum.
There are entries that truly make the mouth water the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge, The British Museum, The V&A to name but three.

If you take this book with those by Simon Jenkins (on churches and houses) and the annual good garden guide (published by Saga) you have a comprehesnive guide to England's major attractions. Someone will have to do a similar job to Jenkins on Wales and Scotland.

Yes it is a book with flaws but those flaws are not fatal (and can and should be corrected) and the joy of the text and photos more than compensate. Now excuse me I have lots more places I need to visit.

Evening In

I picked Jan up at 4 and I was told to sit back and do nothing (other than open the wine). I would like to say these are instructions that I can follow with out any problems.

Then a cry uh Pete the oven stopped. Yes after 12.5 years service it broke. Think its something electrical oh well it can be mended.

Jan coped admirably and used the mircrowave to cook me a very nice dinner. Thanks sweetie. I'll take you out to dinner next time.

The wine was rather good, the first was from an Essex Vineyard Sandyford Vineyard. We had the Clover Hill 2003 a blend of Bacchus and Reichensteiner. The other was an Argentinian Chardonnay which was on offer from Tesco at half price.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


You do have to wonder about the intelligence of some politicians. Lets take Hugo Swire, the shadow Culture Secretary.

He was was recently quoted in a Sunday newspaper saying the Conservatives might consider relaxing the current ban on charges. "We do not want to ban free admissions, but we believe museums and galleries should have the right to charge if they wish to,' he told The Mail on Sunday.

"They could use the money to make their facilities even better and could have special arrangements allowing continued free access for children, students and others."

Mr Swire soon had to make a climb down. Now to be fair I don't think Mr Swire was talking about introducing charges for the sake of making profit.

Since charges were abolished in 2001 Museum attendance has grown enormously which is surely a good thing. Lots of my favourite memories of school are trips to the National History Museum and the Science Museum. I can still remember Dinosaur skeletons and that massive model of a Blue Whale.

Encouraging families to visit something educational must surely be a good thing. If you whack a large charge on it families will surely have to ration their visits.

I would argue that it is, or should be, a fundamental duty of education policy to encourage people to visit and that funding should be via taxes. Yes there are plenty of calls on our taxes bit I'd call in an investment in our future.

Now here I have to make an embarassing confession. I have NEVER visited the V&A or the British Museum. Oh and the Tate and.... Oh flip somewhere else I really need to go

Of course I do visit lots of "museums" but these tend to be houses in the care of the National Trust or in private ownership.

Of course there are many fine museums outside of London. Anyone wanting to see whats about might want to get hold of Britain's Best Museums and galleries.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Well I think I'm going to close the wildlife blog. Too much of the info gets repeated here or if it doesn't I think could be used here. I need to create all the lists on this site and then bang. Not sure about the Sports Blog. This does not mean that this blog is under any threat, i still really enjoy doing it.

In answer to the when are you doing a photowebsite query, well don't hold your breath. I really don't think I want to put the time and effort into it. I may work in computers but I'm a dinosaur so this HTML stuff isn't something I play with. I know you can get free webspace and the like but they don't seem to offer that much space (Blogger offers a gigabyte) and do I really want to pay for storage? If anyone has an EASY way of doing it let me know. Please note my natural inclination is to be lazy.

Sunday night must be the best night of the week for telly! Firstly we had Saving Planet Earth which was beautifully shot (much of the footage had come from the recent Planet Earth). Global Warming is a contentious topic. I think most people believe its happening but they disagree on the cause, some think it is caused by man other that it is a natural function that has been exacerbated by man. Undoubtedly there will always be sceptics but something IS happening.

When Attenborough speaks he does so with more sincerity, gravtitas and emotion then any politician.

For the next two weeks a bunch of celebs will be seen oohing and ahing at some beautiful wildlife. If it convinces a few people to change their minds or put their hands in their pockets then goodo. Personally I think most people care more about having two weeks in Spain than they do about the future of the planet.

I recently saw a flyer for a charity called Flora and Fauna International. On closer inspection I discovered they describe themselves as "the world's longest established conservation society". The vice-presidents include the aforementioned Mr Attenborough and Charlottte Uhlenbroek. The patron is the Queen! I had never heard of it before.

I didn't watch coast, its repeated next Saturday so I'll watch it then. Instead I watched the episode of the brilliant Yes Minister the one where he becomes PM. Seemed apt.

I did enjoy Dimbley's Building Britain. I've visited the circus in Bath and was surprised to learn that though the frontages are a perfect match the backs are all different.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Young Birds, Butterflies and Dragons

Rather pleased to see a Tern Chick on the raft over Hatfield Forest and a stripey Great Crested Grebe chick on the lake.

Went to Rye Meads after lunch. Kingfisher appeared with fish (I believe the eggs have hatched), picture not worth posting. Kestrel chicks in the box. Young every where really. Lovely to see.

So some photos.

Red Admirals everywhere

Young birds

Black Tailed Skimmer

Common Blue Damselfly

Ducks !

On Wednesday there was a coot here!! The coots have left the nest, although the duckling got chased off by an adult.

Common Tern

Are these photos better or worse than those that precede them?

Who are you looking at?


Friday, June 22, 2007

Some Humour

Some of you will have seen this via email but it made me smile so I thought it deserved a wider audience

There are two statues in a park; one of a nude man and one of a nude

They had been facing each other across a pathway for a hundred years, when one day an angel comes down from the sky and, with a single gesture, brings the two to life.

The angel tells them, "As a reward for being so patient through a hundred blazing summers and dismal winters, you have been given life for thirty minutes to do what you've wished to do the most."

He looks at her, she looks at him, and they go running behind the shrubbery. The angel waits patiently as the bushes rustle and giggling ensues. After fifteen minutes, the two return, out of breath and laughing.

The angel tells them, "Um, you have fifteen minutes left, "Would you
care to do it again?"

He asks her "Shall we?"

She eagerly replies, "Oh, yes, let's! But let's change positions. This time, I'll hold the pigeon down and you shit on its head."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

Ok whilst on holiday I finished Bill Bryson's "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" which has the subtitle "Travels Through My Childhood". The childhood is one that started in Des Moines, Iowa in 1951

I suspect it will change no ones opinion of Bryson. You'll either love it or hate it. The book is full of stories of America in the 50's and is a wonderful piece of nostalgia and a an interesting contrast to 50's Britain. Whereas Britain was Grey America comes across as Golden. No doubt there is a hint of rose coloured spectacles but America was not ravaged by war as Europe was.

There are some fascinating anecdotes. It is interesting to note the power of the advertiser.
for a broadcast of "Judgement at Nuremburg" on a series called Playhouse 90, the sponsor, the American Gas Association, managed to have all references to gas ovens and the gassing of Jews removed from the script

There is of course the Bryson hyperbole but for all that his love for his parents and his undoubted pride in his father's sports writing shine through.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Wednesday 20th June

My hotel/pub was The Houndshill Ettington, it was a decent country pub. I'd stay there again.

I then found that Wrest Park wasn't open today sigh. So I came straight home and popped into Rye Meads

Tuesday 19th June

Well my "military planning" was changed today. The weather was nice so I went to Brandon marshes near Coventry. Wildlife watching!! Spent a pleasant few hours. Highlights? Willow Tit, Ringed Plover, Ruddy Duck, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Redshank, Lapwings giving a Grey Heron what for.

Also a Southern Hawker dragonfly and some damselflys including these.....

So I COULD have gone to Warwick Castle but instead I went to Stoneleigh Abbey.

The main house is beautifully situated by the Avon. The house was devastated by fire in the 60's and has been restored. Parts of the house are now used as Apartments and because it is used for corporate events it has inappropriate cream carpet throughout. That said what you see (via Guided Tour) is very splendid, the saloon and chapel are particulary fine. Jane Austen stayed here and it is believed it is the inspiration for Mansfield Park (the chapel has part of Mansfield Park displayed discribing that Houses Chapel, the similarities of the two are evident).

Sadly after the fire the front was restored as is. The photos below will show it is like a beautiful but scarred woman. The house is beautiful but one can't but wish that the commercial needs didn't out weigh the historic.

I had had a very light lunch (a scone and jam) so stopped at Charlecote Park for a slice of cake. Ahem bit bigger than I was intending....

a few more wildlife pics.