Monday, 29 December 2014

More Of A Twitch

I’ve previously written about my new-found interest in watching the birds from the comfort of my rural home (Developing A Twitch). With its river view from its expansive windows and tree-filled garden, it makes for great viewing of the local wildlife.
My interest has now been given even more of the boost, as I received a new pair of binoculars for Christmas, which have all the right features for bird watching – good magnification, a coating to stop glare and retain colours etc. Needless to say, I’ve been even more transfixed with what’s going on outside, driving my family mad with sudden exclamations of, “Wow! There’s a lesser spotted what’s-its-face!” and “Quick, what’s that over there? Could it be a crested what’s-its-name?”

The arrival of said binoculars has indeed allowed me to see many birds here for the first time – birds that until now had merged in with the mud banks or undergrowth, but that I can now view in all their glory. I’ve been watching the herons, cormorants, gulls etc since we moved in, but now I’ve also been able to watch the lapwings and redshanks and a few others that I still have to identify.

I’ve also become more interested in garden and woodland species of birds too. I was getting a bit fed up that the current bird feeders were attracting a disproportionate amount of starlings, which were scaring off some of the smaller birds. So off I went and bought a ‘small bird’ feeder which I duly filled with ‘finch mix’ and am happy to report that it has had the desired effect of attracting some of the smaller species, which are now able to feed in peace. Goldfinches, greenfinches, blue tits and great tits have already visited the feeder and I’m hoping to see others arrive in due course.

Armed with my bird books, I’m managing to identify many of the birds that I see (providing that I can get a good enough view of them), but what I’d really like to do is to learn to identify some of the birdsong and calls that I hear every day. The books do try to describe the sounds in words, but that doesn’t always work for me. All that I can do is try to whittle the calls down to a few possible candidates and listen to the recordings on You Tube in the hope of identifying them.

Despite this enthusiasm for watching (and listening to) our feathered friends, I’m not about to start looking out for reports of rare sightings and go hurtling off to the other end of the country to join the twitching fraternity in some kind of stakeout. No, I’m quite happy with all that I can see from my own window and garden. I’m just extremely fortunate to be living with so much of nature on my doorstep!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas Loves And Hates

With Christmas almost upon us, emotions can run high. Stress, excitement, anticipation, sadness and happiness – they can all feature as part of the festive season!

On the whole I look forward to Christmas, although the build-up can often be more fun than the actual day, when there is too much pressure to enjoy the whole event, however you may feel.

A 'pink' hamper put together for my daughter's birthday
I quite enjoy Christmas shopping, but go out of my way to avoid the shops on certain days. I certainly didn’t shop on Black Friday (looked a nightmare from what I saw on TV) and as for Panic Saturday – for us it was more of a ‘put-your-feet-up’ Saturday, where we cracked open the Christmas biscuits and enjoyed a visit from family.

The swing between eager anticipation and utter madness got me thinking that actually Christmas can be rather a love/hate relationship, making me realise there are things that sit on each end of the scale.

I love:
Shopping for Christmas gifts for the family (except for on the days I’ve already mentioned). I love trying to find presents that are individual and a little bit different, often making up my own goody bags or hampers to suit a particular person.

Christmas lights. I can take or leave all the other fussy Christmas decorations, but I do love all the twinkly lights and enjoy seeing whole displays of them.

Christmas music. OK hearing the same tune in the shops for the fortieth time in a row can start to get irritating, but whilst out shopping last week, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the gospel choir singing at a local shopping centre – the atmosphere was just lovely!

Cold turkey on Boxing Day. Christmas dinner is all well and good but what I enjoy even more are the cold cuts on Boxing Day, served with jacket potatoes, a variety of relishes and a lovely cheeseboard. Mmmm, feeling hungry just writing this.

I hate:
The sadness I feel that certain family members are no longer here to celebrate with us this time of year. I still miss my dear dad thirteen years on and the loss of my two sisters, four and almost three years ago, is still quite raw. Sadly this year has also seen the passing of a couple more family members and the news of the death of an old friend.

That everything seems to return to ‘normal’ on Boxing Day now, whereas when I was younger the holiday seemed to stretch for several days, with shops and businesses staying closed and more time therefore available to catch up with family and friends. There seems to be much more pressure for people to enjoy the one and only day now.

Christmas pudding. As a child I used to look forward to stirring the Christmas pudding mixture and making a wish, but was never very interested in eating the pudding itself. As an adult I seem to like it even less – and the rest of my family hate it too! We always go for an alternative dessert, such as a gateau or Pavlova.
TV chefs telling me what I should be doing or serving at Christmas – with the exception of Mary Berry, who recommends very down-to-earth recipes, using very down-to-earth ingredients. Her turkey crown with herb butter and orange slices sounds tasty, although I may stick to my own version with apple and onion slices!

Whatever you’re doing this festive season I hope it’s a very happy time for you. We will be celebrating in our ‘glorified shed’ with a few close family members, enjoying a few treats and our new rural, riverside setting, but no doubt taking a little time to reflect on the memories of those we miss.

Peace and happiness to you all!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Christmas Past

Preparing for my slightly ‘alternative’ Christmas in our new home, otherwise known as ‘the work in progress’ or ‘glorified shed’, has got me thinking about some of the very different Christmases that I’ve had over the years.

Christmas has certainly changed vastly from my childhood, when there weren’t endless high-tech gadgets to add to our lists and we certainly didn’t have anywhere near the amount of money spent on us that is lavished on some of the kids of today!

Presents of my childhood included a farm set, a tea set and a Tiny Tears doll, and relatives usually bought me colouring books, paints or a Knitting Nancy. When I was young I used to write my letter to Santa, then ‘send’ it by burning it on our coal fire. My wish list used to contain simple things such as a Twinkle Annual and accessories for my dolls. One year I did request an ‘In-A-Minute-Cakebake’ that had been advertised on TV. I longed to be able to whip up the cake mix and put it in the ‘magic’ oven, but sadly it never materialised. I was lucky to get a Potter’s Wheel, a Shaker Maker Set and a Perfume Factory over the years, however. We sometimes had a family present too, the best of these being a giant Spirograph set.

Christmas parties featured heavily in my childhood, with the emphasis on the celebration of the season as opposed to the presents. Our school parties used to begin after lunch, with the desks and chairs being pushed back in the classrooms to accommodate party games. When we would normally have been going home, we sat down to tea and then went to the hall for the chosen entertainment of the year – a group performing panto or a magician, for example. At the end of the day, we were sent home with an apple, an orange and a sugar mouse – I can still recall how they set my teeth on edge! Today, school parties often tend to be held during school hours, with kids expected to down party treats almost immediately after their lunch!

Generally Christmas was a long holiday, with shops closed for days and time spent seeing various family members over the festive period. Now Christmas tends to be too rushed – squeezed into one day, blink and you’ll miss it! This is meant to be the Season Of Goodwill, not eat to excess one day and shop ‘til you drop the next!

I loved the Christmases when my children were small – they became magical all over again. They showed wonder at the simplest of things and it was easy to get caught up in their excitement. When my eldest daughter was three, she seemed really content with the contents of her Christmas stocking – colouring pencils, Barbie underwear, chocolate etc – and when asked said she was quite happy with her presents, thank you. She didn’t realise that this was just a taster of things to come and was thoroughly surprised when she went downstairs to find a doll’s house waiting for her. She genuinely would have been happy with just the simple gifts.
In recent years it’s become the norm to entertain my mother and mother-in-law on Christmas Day, although one year we did ask other family members to ‘take a turn’ so that we could have just one Christmas away, following a very stressful year. We had a lovely time in a log cabin, walking in the forest and relaxing in a hot tub and it did us all good. Sadly, the other family members didn’t fulfil their role as promised, so we’ve hosted our ‘stay-at-home’ Christmas ever since.

Despite our current, ramshackle, make-do living conditions, we will be entertaining our mum’s as usual this year, along with our children and grandchild. It won’t be an overblown affair, just a few popular Christmas treats and some quality time spent together. After all, isn’t that the real spirit of Christmas? 

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A Different Christmas

Like much of life over the past few months, Christmas is likely to be a rather a different, ‘alternative’ affair for us this year.

It’s true to say that over recent years I’ve re-evaluated Christmas anyway, having decided the whole season had been blown out of proportion, and this year brings further limitations.

A few years back I ‘culled’ my Christmas card list, deciding that although it was lovely to remember certain people at this time of year, it was pointless to continue sending greetings to those that I haven’t clapped eyes on since circa 1976! The present list also underwent cutbacks, with the ruthlessness of a struggling chancellor (make of that comment what you will), with only my nearest and dearest on the receiving end of my gifts.

Then there was the whole issue of how much time I wanted to spend in the kitchen. I love a bit of baking when I’m in the mood for it, but don’t want to spend the Christmas season closeted in the kitchen, wiping my fevered brow! This year I don’t even have a kitchen, just an old workbench with a tabletop oven and an old dresser that has to house all necessary crockery as well as basic food items. I will cook our turkey crown and small gammon joint on Christmas Eve leaving just some potatoes and veg to sort out on the big day, when I will make use of some of the great shop-bought desserts that are around.

We may be ‘glamping’ in our glorified shed, but we will still have some family round for the day, after all, Christmas should primarily be about people and not things. Ok we’ll all have to crowd round our meagre heaters to keep warm, but no doubt we’ll be helped along by the odd dram of Christmas spirits. The surroundings may be strange, but I’m sure the atmosphere will be as jolly as ever.

And of course, this will be our first country Christmas, making it easy to have a scenic stroll to combat any excesses, although I have to admit, I’ve cut back greatly on the food shopping too. Years ago I did sometimes get carried away with Christmas food shopping, but have modified this in recent times and even more so this year due to lack of storage space.

So as I prepare to celebrate Christmas in my new ‘almost home’, I’ll be looking forward to some family time, accompanied by a modest dinner and the odd glass of cherry brandy, absorbing my new surroundings and just enjoying the moment.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Five Months On

It’s been five months since we moved out of our conventional, suburban home and embarked on our adventure converting an old workshop into a rural, riverside bungalow.

Technically, we’ve only been living in the building for three of those months, as we spent the summer living in our static caravan on its site in East Anglia. We had planned to bring said caravan back down with us when we came, but a few calculations revealed that we couldn’t get it down the bendy lane leading to our home. So since September we’ve been sort of ‘glamping’ in our glorified shed, pretty well making things up as we go along, and trying to work and live in the same space simultaneously.

Up to now living in these conditions has been quite easy, but as winter starts to take hold, things may get a little less comfortable. It’s amazing how quickly living amongst a load of old workbenches, using a small corner of the building as a makeshift kitchen and visiting a relative for a shower has become the new ‘normal’. But dealing with chillier conditions is proving more of a challenge as some of my previous posts have revealed.

However, the landscape and the wildlife are proving as interesting and entertaining as ever – I can observe so much of nature from my window – with even the grey days offering delightful distractions.

Cormorants can often be seen on the riverbank opposite our home, but usually only in small groups of three or four. But one morning recently, we opened the blinds to be greeted by a line of at least 25 of them looking across at us (or so it seemed). Yes, despite the chills and grey days, the wildlife is prolific as ever, which is a cheering thought.

And now of course, we’re preparing for our first Christmas in our new location. Yes we will be entertaining the usual contingent of my mother, mother-in-law, daughter and grandson, in addition to my other daughter and son that still live with us, but arrangements are likely to be a bit ‘alternative’, shall we say.

Still more on that in a future post. I’m off to untie the shoelace that’s holding the washing machine outlet hose over the washbasin and hunt under the workbenches for something that I know I’ve stored in a safe place! Oh the joys of makeshift living!