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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!

1. Limestone Pavement - Malham Cove

2. Butterfly Bush - Kettlewell, Yorkshire, September 2006

Review of the year 2006

There is no better day than 31st December to review the old year and make, if not New Year Resolutions, neccessary plans for adjustments to one's life bearing in mind the experiences of the past. Plans too, for the coming year, where to go for holidays, who would appreciate a visit, who could be invited to visit me? These questions can wait even though some entries in the diary are already pencilled in.

2006 has been a year of mixture and mixed emotions. My work at the Pearce Group has been busy and happy with the number of projects growing steadily to the situation now when I am needing assistance to provide support for all the different teams who rely on me to provide updated drawings and other head office support. I particularly like giving the training support for staff and also to our partners such as architects and contractors in the use of the Pearce Extranet - 4Projects and training and familiarisation for our own people in the use of Microsoft products, mostly Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

During the year I have joined the Bristol Ornithologists' Club and the Avon Bat Group as an active member of both. Several bird and bat excursions have been made and I hope to fill the diary again in the coming year. The geologists will not be neglected either, and at the moment WEGA - the West of England Geologists Accociation has its monthly winter lecture programme ongoing.

On personal matters, By Easter, Viki with whom I had gone on the wonderful cruise to Antarctica at the end of 2005, and I, decided for various reasons that our relationship was going nowhere. We are still good friends [I hope!] but are no longer visiting each other. To some extent, the flurry during the summer in joining in new activities was because of the gap in my life that had been left after Viki was no longer in the picture.

In September as reported earlier here, I enjoyed a tour to Yorkshire which was a wonderful break from the routine and which also gave me the opportunity to build up more experience in using my new Nikon SLR digital camera. I am still learning of course, but have had some pleasing results. Also as reported earlier, I went to the International Wildscreen event at Bristol's Watershed, where I was mixing, as an interested amateur with some of, if not a majority of the World's best wildlife photographers. I have yet to assimilate much of the excellent information I was given at that symposium, but if I have one new year resolution it is to do more photography.

New friends at home and abroad have been made during the year, and again some of those have been mentioned in here before. The ability to use virtually free telephone and text messaging using the internet services of Skype and Googlemail has proved invaluable. One of my special friends from Hungary is planning to visit Bristol in June and at the moment we are in the early planning stages for what must be seen and done.

I haven't visited my parents' old cottage since July, but gather from the neighbours that the new owners have finished all the renovations and have now moved in. It will be interesting to see what they have done and I plan to go and see them in a few weeks time. My brother and I still own the land, and so I do need to visit the tenant farmer from time to time and make sure that all is well with him.

Christmas - has been and gone, Stephen who is thriving and living in London, came up and stayed with his mother at her new house in Portishead before coming to visit me on Boxing Day. I wish a very Happy New Year to all visitors to my blog. Please drop by again and if possible leave comments.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


You will need the sound on to get the full effect of this neat and amusing bit of cosmology.

Boldly go to GALAXY

Good Man - Sir David

Sir David Attenborough has called for a "moral" crusade against wasting energy.
Sir David, 80, the presenter of the Planet Earth television series, told a Commons committee the wartime slogan "Waste Not, Want Not" should be used to persuade homeowners to switch off electrical appliances instead of leaving them on standby.
"I grew up during the war and it was a common view that wasting food was wrong," said Sir David. "It was not that you thought you were going to defeat Hitler by eating a little bit of gristle but that it was actually wrong to waste food. There should be a moral view that wasting energy is wrong," he added.
Sir David said he was convinced global warming caused disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. "I have just come back from Australia. People accustomed to living in hot temperatures in the Outback are saying, 'It has never been like this'."
He said climate change was a "political hot potato" but he was glad it was being grasped. He refused to be drawn on whether Gordon Brown had gone far enough with his pre-Budget report in tackling climate change.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee is investigating how the public can do more to combat climate change.

BBC Link

Monday, December 04, 2006

Addressing Climate Change

[Photo shows the Power Station at Ironbridge Gorge - Shropshire - birthplace of Britain's Industrial Revolution!]

On Saturday I spent a very interesting few hours at Bristol University attending a day school at the School of Earth Sciences:

"Addressing Climate Change" The main speakers were Colin Palmer CEng and Pam Gill BSc(Hons) BEd PhD. An enthusiastic and knowledgeable audience considered whether technology alone can remedy the situation attributed to climate change, or if fundamental changes to our behaviour will be a necessary part of a solution. A question and answer session was followed by us having to prepare a written assignment and I for one, came away thinking positively that there are some people out there who are dedicated to doing something positive about the issues. Lessons are being learned but sadly the ice caps are still melting and we still burn fossil fuels as if they were an unlimited resource. The build up of atmospheric carbon may slowly lessen over the next decades, but sadly we are far off seeing real improvements in my lifetime. An awful legacy we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. A new Google Group has been formed for the participants of the day school and their friends and I commend it to any of my visitors who may be interested!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Famous Grouse!

Trying out various effects with my photo imaging software and have given this little fellow some chocolate box treatment! Original photo taken on my trip to Yorkshire in September.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Most Strange - Through the Trees

I could have sworn that I had published my poem here last week - but it seems to have disappeared! Anyway, here again by popular demand together with a photo - (of Llyn Brianne) is the poem I hurriedly wrote last Friday morning.

An appreciation

Through the Trees

With me but not with me
My cheeks afire
my eyes welling with tears
as I glimpse the lake
Feeling your presence
supportive in my loneliness
The resin of the trees
like your perfume
heady in the breeze

Moving on
Constant reminders
Ground, soft as a mattress
Clatter of pigeon wings
disturbed by my arrival
A downy feather left in air
dropping finally to the litter of leaves
From pinewood into beech
Woodland autumn odours
Woodland autumn colours
Lake shimmering

Rustle of my footfall
Cheeky grey squirrel
circling the tree trunk.
Above, a vapour trail,
high, flying East
Who are they?
I’ll never know
Dry beech-mast
to a woodland matriarch
already bark scarred
years ago with the words:

.....J P.....
All in my heart.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Show of Hands

This week has been memorable in several different ways for me, but I will concentrate on a concert that I went to on Wednesday evening. An old friend of mine who is very knowledgeable about various kinds of music but particularly in folk music and musicians, had asked me months ago if I would like to join him to see Show of Hands at Bristol’s St Georges. I had no knowledge of Show of Hands, previously being only vaguely aware of the name. They are an internationally known group and my friend Godfrey had seen them on their previous year’s tour at the same venue. And so tickets were bought, and we joined the full and appreciative audience in the former church on Brandon Hill, which is well known not for its architecture but its acoustics. Show of Hands has recently published a new album Witness and the songs from that and from other albums familiar to many in the audience were performed with great gusto and to much applause. There was laughter too, as many of the songs have comic elements and local references. Show of Hands are very much local west country singers, hailing from East Devon but are now travelling all over the UK on their autumn tour. They perform at different venues five nights a week from October to the finish at Exeter in early December. Earlier this year they had a very succesful tour to Canada.
I would be hopeless at describing the band in detail and so will let them describe themselves in the e–link above and their Longdogs fan-site. All I will say is that I thoroughly enjoyed the concert and suggest you listen to a bit of their music which is available free on the website. I forgot to mention that Show of Hands had a guest artist with them on Wednesday - Michael Joseph who was also excellent and his act blended in well.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

On the March!

Last Saturday morning I took the train to London to join in the Stop Climate Change march to Trafalgar Square. Many thousands of people from all over the country and in other capital cities around the world were marching in solidarity to highlight this simple message to the world leaders now meeting in Nairobi. "Act now before it is too late"
It was a fun march for a serious cause, just maybe, the leaders will now realise the groundswell of public opinion will cost them votes if realistic plans and actions are not put in place very soon.
I joined a group of Liberal Democrats outside the School of African & Oriental Studies at London University and from there we marched with police escort through Covent Garden to Trafalgar Square. I couldn't hear much of the speeches from where I was standing but enjoyed the music and the general camaraderie of the event.
In the afternoon I walked back through Covent Garden and to quench my thirst, went into a little pub called the Lemon Tree which I remembered from my student days. Little had changed, though it now serves Thai food - unlikely in 1963!
Then later I arranged to meet my son Stephen and some friends of his. A nice old pub - The Dog & Duck this time, and standing in the crowded little bar we had interesting conversations about people, life and the universe and enjoyes a pint or two of Timothy Taylor's fine Landlord ale.
After that, I took Stephen to a restaurant I had seen many times before but had never been in. For over 50 years and a long time before the word Gay took on other meanings, The Hungarian restaurant, The Gay Hussar has been serving excellent food to discerning visitors to London. I was not disappointed and we had a very good meal. This visit and having been sent a large quantity of excellent Paprika pepper by a friend in Hungary, I am now fired with enthusiasm to cook goulash and other tasty dishes this winter!
Staying overnight at Stephen's flat, I returned to Bristol on Sunday morning.

Going back to the theme of the march - I should point out that I am not at this point, an all doom and gloom person, far from it and I read with interest the article by Mike Hulme, Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, and Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, who advocates a more measured approach, and warns against media hype. Well worth reading!
If you click on this link and view the Lynne Featherstone film, if you pause it at exactly 50 seconds - there's me in the red parka and green cap on the march!

In memory of the grandfather I never knew

I should not need to make excuses, but just in case one or two of my regular visitors have wondered about my lack of posting, here first is a summary of the reasons: -
Busy if not a little stressed at work, lack of sunshine in my life, some worry about a special person in my life (which is slowly getting better and will resolve soon I hope), a busy time writing for other things and people unconnected with my blog, and generally spending time on things which I do want to write about, but I need to allocate good relaxed time at the PC in order to make some sort of decent composition. So, today Saturday the 11th November I will try and relax and make some meaningful contributions to my blog - starting from NOW!

My father's father George William Phillips, though listed here as a Private, was in fact a Corporal in the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was killed instantly by a direct hit on his dugout on February 25th 1918 and so had survived almost four years of that terrible war, only to be killed in its final months at the age of 27. My father was then aged 4. This day - 11th November is of course Armistice Day - Peace having been declared today in 1918 and I always remember the grandfather I never knew on this day.

Friday, November 03, 2006

What a View!

Very busy and it has been ages since I posted - far too long, but this morning I just want to share two wonderful photos that have been sent to me.

Of my two stepdaughters, one lives near Manchester with her husband and two daughters, Niamh and Lara. They are planning to emigrate soon to Cape Town where the other stepdaughter has lived for several years with her husband and one daughter Lola. The Manchester family visited Cape Town earlier this year and the photos of Lara [1st photo] and Niamh were taken on Bloubergstrand beach on that visit.

Thank you for sending them Lyndsay !

Monday, October 23, 2006

Wild Photos

I have had a busy few days and this post is the first of at least two planned. I had marked in my calendar for Friday to go into Bristol to join in a day at the biennial Wildscreen Festival, specifically the WildPhotos symposium. I make no pretensions for being a wildlife photograher or even a good photographer, but I do want to improve my techniques and was not dissappointed with my day. I learned a great deal, was in the company of the best wildlife photographers in the world - some famous names even, and everyone was made welcome. I came away with my mind buzzing with ideas and also with the stunning images that had been projected onto the theatre screen. I doubt that I will make money with any of my photos, but at least I can aspire to make better use of my Nikon and to explore its capabilities.
Here are a few more links to wonderful material that I collected during the day: -
Nature Picture Library
Xpanding Horizons
ARKive - Images of Life on Earth
Steve Bloom
Staffan Widstrand - Images with an Edge
Niall Benvie - Images from the Edge
Wildlife Pets Environment - Ardea
Plenty of photos to see in the links above but just one of mine - a contented bull Elephant Seal - St Andrews Bay. South Georgia - November 2005

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Bird Migration

Today I have been investigating one of the mysteries of bird migration. As a member of the Bristol Ornithological Club, I joined five other men on the sea wall at New Passage, just to the North of Bristol. On arrival I realised that I knew Brian the leader, as he works for the same company as myself; I had not previously known that he is a member of the BOC.

The weather was clear but cloudy with some small patches of blue sky. The tide was out and there was a fair breeze. We saw many small birds, mostly flying up-river in a Northwesterly direction. I asked why this was the predominant direction and found out that no one really knows. The majority of the birds are flying South for the approaching winter, but it seems that they have flown down the West coast from Scotland and Northern England but have then turned inland, West up the Bristol Channel when they reached South Wales. The general trend though, is presumed to be South.

I have been interested in watching birds for as long as I can remember but am a novice when it comes to small bird recognition. My fellow anoraks seemed much more knowledgeable and were able to name the birds from their calls or their “jizz” [size, attitude, manner of flight]. So by the end of the session and having seen thousands of birds flying overhead we had a considerable tally. The most abundant were Chaffinches, of which 2,000 must have flown over in the two hours divided up into large or small parties. Other parties of birds, or single birds that we saw on migration at New Passage were:- Siskin, Greenfinch, Redpoll, Pied and Grey Wagtail, Starling, Reed Bunting, Redwing, Meadow Pipit, Song and Mistle Thrush, Goldfinch, Brambling and Chiffchaff. So no particular rarities or surprises were seen. Now home again after an excellent little excursion, which was followed by a warming breakfast at the Motorway Services at Aust. The photo shows the distant Severn Bridge, looming out of the mist from where we were standing.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Nobel Peace Prize

Many congratulatuons to the Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus who has been awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize not for giving to the poor, but for helping them to help themselves. Here is the article from Time Magazine. It is really good news that against much opposition from right and left wings of the Bangladeshi people and initially from the Muslim establishment, his ideas have been put in place. Now many of the poor, because of these ideas, have now lifted themseles out of poverty. The whole country benefits.

Friday, October 13, 2006

My Photo of the Day

Sunset over Almondsbury, South Gloucestershire - Tuesday October 9th

Monday, October 09, 2006

Even more to worry about

Cataclysmic Events as reported in the October issue of Scientific American may indeed be exacerbated by mankind's poor stewardship of the Earth.

New geochemical evidence is coming from the bands of stratified rock that delineate mass extinction events in the geologic record, including the exciting discovery of chemical residues, called organic biomarkers, produced by tiny life-forms that typically do not leave fossils. Together these data make it clear that cataclysmic impact as a cause of mass extinction was the exception, not the rule. In most cases, the earth itself appears to have become life's worst enemy in a previously unimagined way. And current human activities may be putting the biosphere at risk once again.

How long have we got? How long have these two Cape Petrels got?

Friday, October 06, 2006

+One degree and we are done for

All very worrying to read this in last week's New Scientist: -

"Further global warming of 1 °C defines a critical threshold. Beyond that we will likely see changes that make Earth a different planet than the one we know."
So says Jim Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. Hansen and colleagues have analysed global temperature records and found that surface temperatures have been increasing by an average of 0.2 °C every decade for the past 30 years. Warming is greatest in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere, particularly in the sub-Arctic boreal forests of Siberia and North America. Here the melting of ice and snow is exposing darker surfaces that absorb more sunlight and increase warming, creating a positive feedback.
Earth is already as warm as at any time in the last 10,000 years, and is within 1 °C of being its hottest for a million years, says Hansen's team. Another decade of business-as-usual carbon emissions will probably make it too late to prevent the ecosystems of the north from triggering runaway climate change, the study concludes (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol 103, p 14288).

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

My Photo of the Day

Chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica)
My personal favourite! Just 10 months ago I was sitting on a rock admiring the view when this little fellow came out of the sea and waddled past me on his way to the nest. Aitcho Islands - Antarctic Peninsula.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

El Condor pasa

One of my friends has sent me the Simon and Garfunkel song El Condor pasa, it means much and connects with the general theme of my blog.

I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail.
Yes I would.
If I could,
I surely would.

I'd rather be a hammer than a nail.
Yes I would.
If I only could,
I surely would.

Away, I'd rather sail away
Like a swan that's here and gone
A man gets tied up to the ground
He gives the world
Its saddest sound,
Its saddest sound.

I'd rather be a forest than a street.
Yes I would.
If I could,
I surely would.

I'd rather feel the earth beneath my feet,
Yes I would.
If I only could,
I surely would.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Three Brazilian Soldiers

I couldn't resist copying this, though it's probably been flying around the internet for weeks already:
Iraq, George W Bush, Republican, Ignorance, War on terror,


Donald Rumsfeld briefed the President this morning. He told Bush that Three Brazilian soldiers were killed in Iraq . To everyone's amazement, all of the color ran from Bush's face, then he collapsed onto his desk, head in hands, visibly shaken, almost whimpering. Finally, he composed himself and asked Rumsfeld, "Just exactly how many is a brazillion?"

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Exxon and Global Warming

The worst revelation this week that has filtered trough to me is (and I quote) that the oil giant ExxonMobil gives money to scores of organisations that claim the science on global warming is inconclusive – which it isn’t. It’s a strategy that has set back action on climate change by a decade, and it involves the same people who insist that passive smoking is harmless. This is revealed in Heat a new book by George Monbiot and quoted in The Guardian newspaper. The article is to be found at The Guardian and I won’t quote more of it here, just saying Shame on you Exxon.

Friday, September 22, 2006

I'm home!

I returned yesterday from an excellent trip "Up North" taking in many of the beauty spots of Yorkshire and then into Lancashire before driving home. There were no major disasters and all the places I stayed were good and the various Guest Houses or Bed & Breakfast places looked after me well. I can now do without massive breakfasts of eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, black pudding, tomato and mushrooms - with toast, marmelade for several months. The weather was much better than expected and as you will see, had plenty of sunshine.
I took nearly 300 photos some of which have been published to a new folder on Flickr. Please take a look. Three more days including today, then back to work on Monday. The highlight of the trip and where I did the most walking was Malham where stunning limestone scenery dominates the landscape with waterfalls, disappearing streams, cliffs and bare pavements of well weathered rock, in the joints and cracks of which are many species of ferns, protected there from wind and thriving in moist conditions and a thin soil.
Sadly I did not manage to find the wonderful Sandbeck Yew Tree, described in my 18th Century guide book [see previous post], it had probably been felled many years ago. I do hold out some hope to hear more of it as I left my address with Mr Molyneaux who said he would pass it to the local historian.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Modern and Ancient

I was forgetting that I had plans for today! It is the annual Heritage Open Day during which many historic buildings not otherwise open to the public are available to view in all the counties of England. Near to me here in Bristol is the village of Westbury-on-Trym where two houses that I had never visited previously were my destination this morning. The first was The Concrete House, a classic “Modern Movement” house built in 1934 and still with many of its original fixtures and fittings. Then by contrast, not far away in the centre of the village, is Elsie Briggs House, a largely unaltered house built in 1445 and still occupied and used as a house of prayer. It is the oldest continuously occupied house in Bristol. So, a morning of contrasts – judge for yourself, look at my photos and follow the link if you would like further information. I try and go to different places each year on open day and it will take a lifetime to see them all, just in this area.

Chatting On Line

I have no idea of the actual numbers of people around the world who are at this minute, typing away at their PC’s chatting on line with people they have never met and never will meet - in all probability. However if the total number shown at the foot of my Skype box for total users on line is any guide, then it will be a substantial percentage of that number, which now as I write is 4,524,889, plus all those using other service providers world wide.

I realise that the Internet is used for all sorts of dubious purposes and that sex and images of sex do make up a huge part of total Internet traffic but there is a genuine and interesting social interaction going on with one to one chat. It is in fact a cultural phenomenon that is, in my opinion allowing people to learn about each other’s cultures, lifestyles and interests in ways never before possible. Ordinary people are talking with other ordinary people, often the other side of the world. Naturally there is a bias towards the “haves” rather than the “have-nots” as it needs an Internet connected computer to join in. Then it needs a little bit of expertise to know what to do to find people with whom to chat and not all computer users feel comfortable doing that. I am one who does feel comfortable chatting with strangers on line; and I get a sense, at an early stage, that the other person is, or is not, someone I can have an interesting conversation with. Several times I have been messaged by people whose only conversation is “Hi, how are you? They want to chat, but the words just don’t come and especially if their on line profile tells me nothing, I get bored by writing back “Ok tell me about yourself, where are you, what are you, how old are you, what do you do? It is necessary for effective communications for people to have posted in a profile, answers to all these questions and more. Profiles should allow one to see immediately a person's main interests and preferred language and a lack of profile might mean that the person has a lot he or she wants to hide.

I would not be on line at all if I could not learn from the Internet, I don’t use it as a game, but as a tool to stimulate my mind and to learn from other people. I have made good and genuine friends with people who are able to speak, or are learning to speak English and these are the kinds of friends who have something to say about themselves, their lives and their countries. I remain fascinated!

As a finish to this post – a special thanks to my friends – they know who they are! - in Hungary, India, Poland, Germany, Austria, Washington, Iowa, Texas, Ontario, British Columbia, China, Taiwan, Sardinia, Lithuania, Philippines, South Africa, and I’m sorry if I’ve missed any off the list.

This is probably my last post for a few days as I’m off on holiday to Yorkshire until the 22nd September. Watch out for my photos after that – OK?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Beauties of England

One of my oldest books and one of my most treasured is this little travel guide to “The Beauties of England” which was printed in 1757. Just before I set out on a tour to the North of England next Sunday I thought it might be a good idea to compare travelling now with travelling in the 18th Century.
The only people who could afford to travel any distance away from home were the gentry and nobility and it was for them that this book was written. There were coaching inns but these are not mentioned in the book and one’s attention is drawn to the list at the end of the pages for each county of the “Seats of the Nobility and the Gentry.” And so like using a hotel guide today, our 18th century noble traveller with his coach and pair of horses would write a letter in advance to [for instance] the Earl of Carlisle at Castle Howard in Yorkshire asking for the favour of a visit en route to his own lands in Scotland. He would have to give an approximate date of arrival and give the numbers of his party, the numbers of his servants and his horses in order that the Noble Earl can delegate his staff to make suitable arrangements. What a carry-on!
Having arranged the accommodation, our traveller would then pay attention to the beauties and curiosities of the areas to be visited. I quote as an example: -
Near Sandbeck, in a Field called Cuckold’s Haven, is a remarkable Ewe-tree of a greenifh Colour, and very fingular form; its Branches rife one above another in natural Circles of Dimenfions as exact as if they were a Production of Art, and more beautiful; ‘tis hedged in, being efteemed a very great Curiofity. I will try and find if is there still – yew trees tend to live for hundreds of years.
There are hundreds of other little anecdotal snippets of information in the book, useful then in the 1750’s but I doubt if the Noble Earl will be welcoming me and my Ford to his country seat later this month. Note if you would, that the lower case letter s, if used at the beginning or in the middle of a printed word uses a font giving it the appearance of an f. Thus Yorkshire looks like Yorkfhire, Island becomes Ifland and Chester becomes Chefter.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Teaching English

Since starting my Blog in April of this year I have had much satisfaction from the favourable comments received from all over the world. These have been from people who were previously unaware of my humble existence and I thank them all for visiting.
I have also joined the internet phone network Skype and at various times while I sit here at the PC, I can mark my phone status as “Skype Me” which means that of the millions of people online at that moment anyone could find me and if they wish, text or voice chat with me, all for no cost. Almost all that have Skyped me have been genuinely nice people who in some way have found interests to share with me. One of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences for me has been chatting with several non-English speakers who want to improve their English skills or show interest in other subjects within my own areas of expertise. While I have no qualification for teaching English, I think I do have a thorough knowledge of my own language and can give many people the benefit of that knowledge. If I don’t know the answer to a question of grammar or lexicon then I always know where to look and /or make intelligent use of Google!
Yesterday I was helping a head teacher in Hungary write a letter to a British charity. She has no budget for obtaining textbooks and needed a particular book that they publish for teaching English. The letter has been sent and I await the result, but for now I have the teacher’s profuse thanks heaping praise on my efforts, saying, “Even if I lived for 100 years I wouldn't be able to compile a letter like this.” I confess that I have a swollen head after such praise but am nonetheless very happy to receive it.
So if you have any questions about English usage please email or Skype me – I’ll do my best to answer. And here is an English rose in return.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

My Photo of the Day

The remote Llyn Brianne in Mid-Wales, one of several reservoir lakes in the area.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Jazz at the Old Duke

For many years the world famous jazz pub The Old Duke in Bristol's historic King Street holds an August Bank Holiday Jazz Festival. Jazz bands play to appreciative audiences in the open air between the Duke and the older pub, the Llandoger Trow which is only too pleased to sell more beer to the jazz goers.
I spent a very enjoyable time yesterday afternoon, chatting, having a beer, listening to the bands and taking a few photos. It is a wonderful event for people watching; families, students and jazz lovers of all shapes and sizes pack the end of King Street, sitting on the cobbles or on the benches outside the two pubs. It's a date again for next year! ;-)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

D0n't t0uch me!

Since 1839 the British Isles have been colonised by an attractive but highly invasive plant species. Victorian travellers to India brought the plant back to add to their gardens, but now it is to be found on most of our riverbanks. Walking beside rivers as I often do during the summer, it is not long before the tall stems of Himalayan Balsam are evident. It is a garden escape that has been particularly successful in its spread throughout the country. It is a tall, robust, annual producing clusters of purplish pink (or rarely white) helmet-shaped flowers. Also called Jumping Jack, Policeman’s Helmet, Indian Balsam and the “bee bum plant”. This last because when a bee enters the helmet shaped flower that is all one can see of the bee. It has the impressive Latin name of Impatiens glandulifera and is also the Noli-me-tangere plant – from the Latin for “Don’t touch me” because touching the seed pods at this time of year sends the seeds flying in all directions. Each plant can produce up to 800 seeds and can shoot them from the pods up to 7 metres away, which is why it is so successful in its dispersal.

Since its introduction it has become naturalised, especially on riverbanks and increasingly in waste places and has become a problematical weed. Himalayan balsam tolerates low light levels and, in turn, tends to shade out other vegetation, impoverishing habitats. It is sometimes seen in gardens, either uninvited or grown deliberately, but care must be taken to ensure that it does not escape into the wild.

The eradication of the plant is widely encouraged, and usually the most appropriate method is by pulling up or cutting out plants before they flower and set seed. Conservation authorities regularly organise ‘balsam bashing’ work parties to clear the weed from marshland and riverbanks but their work has only managed to clear small areas. As the seeds remain viable for up to two years re-colonisation is commonplace.

As I said, it is an attractive plant and if it did not shade out our native flora I would otherwise be more pleased to see it.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Farmland Birds in Decline

This scruffy little chaffinch is to illustrate an article I have just been reading. Quite apart from climate change, in the UK there have been many changes to the agricultural scene over the last two or three decades and some of these have affected wildlife. Some species have declined but some have increased over the period and are continuing to do so. Among the losers have been skylarks, corn buntings, tree sparrows, bullfinches and turtle doves, while song thrushes and some of the rarer birds have been increasing.

I have been lucky this spring and summer to have seen or at least heard, many species of birds. The chaffinch was singing in a tree above the lane in Marshfield, near Bath at the end of June where I was able to try out my new camera and zoom lens for the first time. In farmland I have also seen skylarks, thrushes corn buntings and yellowhammers in good numbers as well as many other species like grey partridge, little egrets, herons, quail (heard). I could go on, and while none of my species seen is particularly rare or even endangered it is worrying to note that there are still marked declines in formerly common species.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

My Photo of the Day

Gentoo Penguins marching back home! Picture taken 02 Dec 2005

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Conservation in the Far South

I was privileged to have visited last December the British Antarctic Survey historical base at Port Lockroy on the Antarctic peninsula. I now read with great interest of the conservation work being done on the Scott and Shackleton huts on the edge of the Ross Sea, much further to the south than my tourist cruise had ventured.
"There is a corner of Antarctica that is forever Britain. On the shores of Ross Island there are three wooden huts left behind by Robert Scott and Earnest [sic]Shackleton's expeditions a century ago - a snapshot frozen in time. It is something of a miracle that the huts have survived, but now ice, winds, salt and warmer summers are sounding their death knell. Ironically, New Zealand is leading the fight to save them."
The above comes from an article in this week's New Scientist and is well worth reading. Sorry that link works fully only if you subscribe to New Scientist. This link is good!
My photos show the Port Lockroy Base and Museum which has food items dating from the 1950's. On the rocks out side the building are nesting Gentoo Penguins.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

My Photo of the Day

I haven't posted a My Photo of the Day for ages, so I'll choose this. Through the trees to the highest waterfall in Wales - Pistyll Rhaeadr - which actually means "waterfall waterfall" in Welsh.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Monday Night was Music Night

I had planned to go to Bristol's Nova Scotia Hotel Folk Club for ages and was dismayed to find on arrival that the the little upstairs room was full to the brim and at first I was turned away. Later, a few more people were squeezed in and I was lucky to be able to stand by a wall and near to an electric fan. The guest artist last night was Michael Chapman who entertained us until after 11 o'clock with some of his songs and fantastic guitar playing. Toward the end of the final set he was joined by Keith Warmington [one of our larger than life BBC Radio Bristol presenters] on harmonica.
Standing there, among many other appreciative people on a hot evening , I was reminded of a time, different location, different genre, when I visited the Preservation Hall in New Orleans where generations of traditional jazz musicians have played to audiences just as appreciative. Michael Chapman has been performing since the 60's and his gravelly voice and generally grizzled appearance compared in my memory with the old guys I saw in New Orleans back in 1972. I hope he continues for many more years and I am pleased to see that the Preservation Hall has survived the floods and is thriving again and still costs very little [$8] entry.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Not enough being done!

I was chatting on line with a man in China yesterday morning and he told me that he could not access the BBC website. We assumed that this is because it is blocked by the Chinese government which is sad. I rely on the BBC for much of my knowledge base and as I have used BBC links in several of my posts, I do hope that my visitors here can read them. Just this quick post with a link today to a piece about the interview with the President of the Royal Society, Lord Rees, who gives a plea for much more to be done by the governments to increase research in alternative technologies.
You can [unless barred!] also listen to the interview on line.
I was dismayed by the final sentence of the article: - The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2030 global energy demand will increase by 50%. If that is the legacy my generation is passing on, there is going to be a very different and troublesome world then for our children and grandchildren.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Trilobite Dingle

I had a very busy weekend in Mid-Wales, returning to Bristol last Sunday evening. I had managed to visit several friends and relatives and also spent some time on my own re-visiting old haunts. I have been visiting Montgomeryshire, the family home of my late grandfather regularly for as long as I can remember and have special affection for the rivers and "hump-backed little hills... lying like sleeping lizards in the sunlight." [Pauline Phillips]
On Sunday morning waiting between breakfast and a suitable time to visit my aunt, I visited a famous geological locality, the Trilobite Dingle in Bronybuckley Woods just outside the town of Welshpool. Here, scrambling down to the bed of a little stream one can still find ancient Ordovician shales containing Trilobites over 450 million years old. The rock disintegrates easily and broken shale lies around the stram bed making it relatively easy to spot the Trilobites. Whole specimens [as with most fossils] are rare but I collected a few specimens of heads and head shields and have taken photographs of them as you see above. I am fascinated by this early life, something that has no living relatives, that was common in the early oceans, leaving us too few clues as to their ways of life. The species here is Salterolithus caractaci.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Generally I don't do War...

but the news today is so shocking I feel obliged to comment. Sadly the Lebanese government seems incapable of dissuading the Hezbollah from their cowardly actions, but my government and that of the US, connive with Israel.
The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said this evening that Israel is not ready to stop its offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Israeli air strike on the southern Lebanese village of Qana on Sunday killed at least 54 Lebanese civilians, mostly children and despite some hopes of a ceasefire following international outrage, fighting has continued today.
Appealing to residents of southern Lebanon to distance themselves from terrorists, as Maj Gen Gadi Eizenkot of the Israeli army has done, is just empty words. In the villages of the area there are women, children and elderly, even able bodied men who just cannot get out of their homes, there is nowhere for many to go and it seems, few know the terrorists of Hezbollah who hide themselves within their communities.
The talking has to go on, and the rockets and the bombings must stop before this war spreads to other parts of the Middle East. Haaretz in Israel has stated: "The unfortunate bombing in Qana is not just "another bombing"... Hopefully, this event will not stop the process of forging a diplomatic arrangement for ending the war." Other Israeli newspapers have also sounded dovelike today, but are the world leaders really listening?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Overlooking the Old Place

Work on my parents' former home is nearing completion. I had a tour of the buildings yesterday and can honestly say that the work being done by the new owners is going to make a magnificent home for them. A home quite different and more modern than ever envisaged by our family, but one that proves their commitment and love for the surroundings. The south wall of the imposing old barn is the most striking change. Gone is the plain stone face with vertical air vents and now a full height window divided horizontally for the master bedroom at top and main living room below. This takes full advantage of the outstanding view to the south. I will take more photos at a later date, but for now a 2003 view of the barn and one from yesterday together with a photo of a humble bee from today's visit to the nature reserve at Sweeney Fen a few miles away from the cottage.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Punkah Wallah

Here in UK it is [for us] very hot again today. Temperatures of 30C and more. In the office without air conditioning and no siesta in the heat of the day we are suffering the heat. I mentioned to some of my younger colleagues that we should have a Punkah Wallah but was met with blank looks - What's one of them John? So I thought I would share the information.
Punkah Wallahs were low caste Indian servants, who, in the days of the British Raj sat all day long, pulling on the strings of a cloth awning, thus creating a breeze allowing his master some comfort in which to rest or enjoy his gin and tonic. Can we have a punkah wallah each I was asked! THis one has fallen asleep on the job. Punkah = Fan; Wallah = Doer.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Endangered Species

The threat of extinction is hanging over some 12% of mammals, 23% of birds and 32% of amphibians. "Virtually all aspects of biodiversity are in steep decline." [Bob Watson, chief scientist at the World Bank.
A group of scientists from 13 countries is trying again to raise awareness and encourage preventative meassures.
I am acutely aware of the difficulties that such a body will face. Apathy, scepticism and commercial interests being the stumbling blocks that occur to me. Brazil and Indonesia have shown little interest in joining discussions and, because of their huge rainforest biodiversities, their input would be crucial to have effect.
It is so sad to think that most of us will have seen species in our lifetimes that people in the following generations will never see alive due to extinctions.
BBC Link

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Nature Trivia and an Iron Age fort

Have a look at some wierd and wonderful nature facts - I found this while looking up Emperor Moth details.
The Photo is of Cow Castle, an Iron Age fortification above the River Barle in West Somerset. The earthworks of the fort are very clear from the upper path which is approximately where I found the caterpillar.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Colourful Caterpillar

I had to look this one up! It's an Emperor Moth caterpillar we found on Exmoor. It feeds on the heather. I've had a really good four day walking holiday with several old friends that I used to work with. Exmoor is an upland National Park in West Somerset.