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Friday, December 28, 2007

Brief Update

To all my loyal visitors to my blog!
Sorry about my prolonged absence. Sadly I suffered a stroke at home here in Bristil on 9th December, b I have some residual problems with my eyesight and cannot now drive, but I'm getting around, walking wounded! But with some damage to my eyesight. I was taken to Frenchay Hospital and stayed there until the Thursday before Christmas.
I may not be posting to my blog very often but will try, as often as I am able.

I would love to hear from any visitors to my site by comment on the blog or by personal email to me at johnp@wega.org.uk
Some recovery expected but don't expect my typing to improve!
Love to all my loyal friends, relatives and any other visitors.
Happy New Year from

Monday, December 03, 2007

A blot on the Landscape?

Near the proposed site - Cefn Coch near Llanfair Caereinion

I have been preparing this piece for a few weeks now, trying to get together pertinent information and trying to come to some sort of rationale. One of my cousin had alerted me to the fact that at Cefn Coch, in the hills above Llanfair Caereinion in Montgomeryshire, plans are afoot to build a wind turbine farm in this particularly beautiful area of Mid Wales. Many local peopled had been demonstrating against the proposal and urging the planning authority to withhold permission. I considered protesting mytself, but I realised that I knew little about the main issues. It seems to me that the fundamental questions that need consideration are 1. Would this wind farm generate enough electricity to be cost effective? 2. Are the turbines a fatal hazard for near flying birds or bats? And 3, Does the noise or visual impact of this farm, placed on the Cefn Coch ridge detract from the natural beauty of this sparsely populsterd area.

I have seen various figures given for the vast amount of wind energy potentially available to us in the British Isles and turbines are becoming a common sight around our coasts and on ridges in hilly areas. I could copy various references, damning or praising wind turbines but would only be adding to the confusion. No one I think would deny that renewable energy must be used where and when possible though because of the noise and the scale of the plant some would say “Not in my back yard or spoiling our view!” I can sympathise with this view, I love this area of Mid Wales that my mother described in her book, A View of Old Montgomeryshire as: humped backed hills, lying like sleeping lizards in the sunlight.

As for a wind farm being fatal for migrating or flocking birds, according to this Eco-Myth and Healthlink articles the danger does seem to be mostly an urban myth, though I would like to see some evidence if there is any, of bird kills from around other wind farms. Some birds have undoubtedly been killed by flying into the blades of wind wirbines, but is the number greater than those killed by domestic cats and irresponsible royal shooting parties far more? I think so!

Any comments gratefully received!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Stop Killing Whales!

I am not one to avoid red meat from farmed sources if it is on offer, but I have little sympathy for the Japanese who are in direct defiance of international whaling bans under the excuse of "scientific research." and are resuming the killing of humpback whales with barbaric exploding harpoons after a forty year moratorium that has brought about a modest recovery in some species, but populations are still precarious, and will be made more so with the resumption of whaling. I can understand the cultural arguments of the Japanese apologists like Hideki Moronuki, of the whaling section in the Far Seas Fishery Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries who says that, "If someone eats a cow, why should one object to a dolphin and whales being eaten; they're all mammals." He added, "If Australians want to eat kangaroos, we don't care. . . . Please do not care what Japanese do. . . . Eating dolphins and whales is part of Japanese food culture." Apparently the Japanese are eating less whale meat, but nevertheless, it is still a huge industry.
My own disgust at this matched by many people who believe as I do that the great whales are all still in great danger of extinction, are intelligent and worth protecting for future generation to marvel at rather than have the remaining few turn up on Japanese dining tables.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Apologetic Update

Several weeks have again passed by with no new blog posts from me and I begin to feel guilty! However I do have an excuse this time . For the last two weeks I have been experiencing headaches and eye problems, finding reading,and writing quite difficult. I thought it may be migraine and went to see my doctor but he could find nothing particular wrong but advised me to have an eye test to see if my glasses prescription needed changing. Anyway, I had the optician look at my eyes yesterday and because I have been reading and writing with a great deals of difficulty for over a week now she is referring me to the Bristol Eyer Hospital for further investigation. I don't know yet how long before the hospital can see me. Slightly worrying - as you can imagine! I will however attempt another post today...

Friday, October 26, 2007

My Photo of the Day

Sadly since returning from Madrid, my blogging activity has dwindled and I am anxious to catch up with at least one post per week and there are several topics going through my head.
I have been busy with many things and projects, not least a Journalism course at Bristol Uni, an Ebay business venture - details sometime soon, and various other things breaking into retirement gradually and getting used to the idea that i don't actually have to get up at 6:15 am every morning!
Here goes with an easy photo of Cape Town with Robben Island in the distance. Taken from the top of Table Mountain

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Polar Ice Melting

As a lifelong collector and historian of Polar Exploration; I have noticed an item that has popped up today. Much effort was made in the early years of Polar Exploration by many Sailors and adventurers to find a route around the north of Canada and down into the Pacific to China and India.

Finally the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen in the Gjoa took three years to complete the first voyage East to West in 1906 through the ice and Islands of the Northwest Territories in 1928, and the first West East voyage in the little Royal Canadian Mounted Police Vessel St Roch in 1941-1942. (See photo)

There has been record ice melt this year, and the normally ice-blocked channels are free as never before. due to Global warming according to the BBC. Stunning graphics show the retreat of polar ice in the high arctic over the last two decades. BBC Link.

If your home is near sea level

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Inconvenient Truth

I have been aware for some time of Ex US Vice President Al Gore's personal wake-up call regarding global warming and its effects. I bought the DVD An Inconvenient Truth some weeks ago but only yesterday found the time to watch it from beginning to end. Immediately some starkly familiar images . The swirl of hurricane Katrina approaching the Gulf Coast in 2005, stranded boats far from the edge of the Aral Sea (See my blog), great calving from the edge of the Greenland Ice cap and many others that I have become familiar with over the last few years, but there were many new and thought provoking topics and Al Gore did a great job of presentation throughout, unafraid of naming and shaming the corporate polluters nor of upsetting the fundamentalists and deniers of evolution. It was certainly worth delving into the DVD extras after the main film to see various updates (as of late 2006) and the Director - Davis Guggenheim's own commentary. Well done Al Gore. If you haven't yet seen the film PLEASE do so soon! Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun wrote:
In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to. I agree with him!

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Took a few days break in Madrid to celebrate my rertirement! I'd never been before. Though the break was not without a few problems, like my credit cards not working for me! I now need another week to get over it! My hotel was very central, only a few minutes walk from Plaza Mayor. The pavements were hard as I tended to walk everywhere. Feet still sore 2 days after return. The highlights were the trips around the Prado where the current exhibition is the dreamlike paintings of Patinir [Painting of the Flight into Egypt at the Bournemisza]
, the Bourne Thyssen Bournemisza Gallery*- there, excellent Rodin Sculptures and many other famous artworks, sadly, photography not allowed. I missed by one day an exhibition of Etruscan art at the Archaeological Museum and was a little disappointed by the visit to the recreation of the cave at Altimira, the cave art was not in my opinion very well displayed or lit, but that musem was generally very good.
Generally Madrid was a great place to go and visit. Very busy, noisy, excellent food, even the beer was OK and cooled me down after a walk in he heat of the day.

Not my best set of photos, but here they are- click on link Picasa Madrid

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Today has been wonderful for the annual St Pauls Carnival I hope these two photograpphs and the others taken today >>link here<< gives some impression of the colour and the passion. What my photos cannot convey though is thesound of the music and the smell of cooking from every street and private back garden. Street vendors were selling watermelons and fresh coconuts and sugar canes, jerk chicken saltfish and akee and other caribbean dishes and everyone was having a great time watching the dancers, the stilt walkers, children constantly blowing whistles and the celebrastions will continue well into the night - I wouldn't like the job of clearing up the rubbish tomorrow morning.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Madiba we love you

That wonderful elder statesman Nelson Mandela was honoured yesterday by the unveiling a statue yesterday in London's Parliament Square. There are many statues in our Nation's Capital, but this is, I think one of the most deserving to be remembered in this way.
Its creator, the British sculptor Ian Walters, did not live to see it being unveiled. He died last year.
Amid shouts of "we love you" from the crowd that thronged the road and hung from office block windows, the 89-year-old former South African president and his third wife, Graca Machel, made a dame for her own humanitarian work, were visibly moved at the reception.
Despite being supported by a cane, Mr Mandela took to the stage to address the crowd. He said: "We never dreamed we would all be here today. Though this statue is of one man, it should in actual fact symbolise all those who have resisted oppression, especially in my country."
[Daily Telegraph on line]
Mandela still has much to do, not least in trying to persuade his successor, President Thabo Mbeki who has been a scandalous failure to confront the scourge of HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa. And there are worrying signs that the situation is about to get worse. Last week, South Africa’s deputy health minister, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, was fired by President Mbeki.
Madlala-Routledge was one of the driving forces behind a plan to extend anti-retroviral treatment to 80 percent of those with AIDS by 2011. This focus is exactly what South Africa’s AIDS program had been lacking. But now Madlala-Routledge has gone, there is a serious danger that the momentum toward this goal will be lost.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Back again to Wales

Another trip to the land of Wales earlier this month and hundreds of photos taken at or around Lake Vyrnwy, the River Vyrnwy, Pontrobert and Llanfyllin. Pontrobert Watermill was the retirement home of my grandparents, Bob and Margaret Jones and my regular holiday destination for most if not all of my early years. Here is the long pool on the Vyrnwy about 200m below the mill house.
The link to my Picasa collection is here. - Sheryl - look at the pic of the tapestry in the church at Llanfyllin!

My Tango Photographs

The sound and the sight of the Tango is all over Buenos Aires but particularly around La Boca near the old port and in the heat of the sun.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Demise of the Yangtze River Dolphin

Sad news today from various sources confirming the first large mammal extinction for many years and the first cetacean extinction through human activity despite recent and high profile efforts to save it. The species is the Baiji or Yangtze River Dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer). See New Scientist link. Other river dolphin species from the Amazon and from the Ganges are also on threatened species lists.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Tom Russell

Another excellent musical evening at St Bonaventure’s last night. We went to see the incomparable American singer Tom Russell who was accompanied by the excellent Michael Martin as second guitar and mandolin. The hall was packed, with chairs for only about half of the appreciative audience. Those without, sat on the floor or stood for the whole performance in a very warm and sometimes airless room. No one seemed to mind and we were encouraged to join in lusty and fun choruses. There can be no other singer-songwriters to come up with the one word chorus “Criminologist!” which refers to Tom Russell’s own early career.

Monday, July 30, 2007

My Antarctic Photos of the Day

The British base at Port Lockroy.

Designated as Historic Site No 61 under the Antarctic Treaty, 19 May 1995. Restored 14 Jan 1996-18 Mar 1996. Since Nov 1996 the station has been run as an Historic Site and is open to tourists and visitors during austral summer seasons.

Bristol Harbour Festival

A really nice weekend for ship, boat and people watching here on Bristol's Harbourside. Lots of photos taken and cheeses bought at the French market in Queen's Square. We also visited St Mary Redcliffe Church, that which Queen Elizabeth 1st called "The goodliest, fairest and most famous parish church in England" A selection of photographs are here on Picasa. Please click on the link.
In the lead photo the "Matthew" the replica of the ship in which John Cabot sailed from Bristol to discover Newfoundland in 1497

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Royal Welsh Show 2007

The annual Royal Welsh Show at Builth Wells had always appealed but I had never been to it before and so I was pleased to have chosen a nice bright day with no rain for the 80 mile drive through the South Wales valleys to the venue on the banks of the River Wye. The countryside looked magnificent until we joined a long and tedious line of traffic moving very slowly the last few miles into the show ground car parks. I took with me my visitor from Hungary and my son Stephen and we all had a great time looking at the excellent livestock and other displays, We were entertained by a sheep-shearing competition, Ukrainian riders, pole climbing, canoeists, Shetland ponies, and a man with a sheepdog which has been specially trained to herd his flock of ducks.
Some of our photos are here on

Thursday, July 12, 2007

My Antarctic Photo of the Day

Fur Seal families, Cooper Bay, South Georgia
Arctocephalus gazella

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Jurassic Coast

Ladram Bay - East Devon
Another trip organised by WEGA - the West of England Geologists Association and other Geological societies took us last Saturday to Exmouth and onto a Stuart Line boat, Eastward along the coast as far as Lyme Regis and back. Our guide to the area, explaining the varied and fascinating geology enroute was Dr Richard Scrivener BSc, PhD, CGeol, FGSDistrict Geologist for the British Geological Survey and is head of the BGS station in Exeter. He had picked a particularly fine day with only slightly choppy watrer on the return trip and an excellent time was had by all. My photos of the trip are here on Picasa.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Weekend disappointment

This coming Sunday we had been looking forward to going to a Folk Festival at Saul, a little village on the canalside near Frampton on Severn. Sadly the torrential rain in the last few days has led to the event being cancelled. We are told that we can expect, as the century progesses, many more extreme weather events. I am sad the Saul festival has been put off until next year, but there many other things to do, though some may involve putting wellington boots into the boot of the car as a precaution! Today the sun is shining (rather weakly) after another night of heavy rain. At least the rain guarantees a green and pleasant England.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Bristol and its artistic legacy

I am saddened this week to hear of further problems for two of Bristol's much loved but under used and under funded venues: our two theatres offering serious drama. I have written before of the Theatre Royal, known as the "Bristol Old Vic", our wonderful but somewhat dilapidated 240 year old theatre. It still needs another £2 million to complete the programme of improvements and there is now talk of its possible permanent closure. I can remember going to the theatre as a child in the late 1940's when my father was in the Old Vic company and have noted with interest the fortunes of, and have seen some of the productions at the theatre in the years since. Artistic directors have come and gone over the years, have tried hard to bring challenging drama to our city with little support from the City Council and a Bristolian audience that seems to struggle with such challenges. Popular opinion seems to be saying a root and branch overhaul of the articitic policy is required, bringing whenever the renovations have been completed, a schedule of plays with much more public appeal than has been offered in the recent past.

It would be tragic to see the demise of the BOV, my father and many other actors and directors of his generation like Stuart Burge, Newton Blick, Nat Brenner and Paul Eddington, to name just five men I have known, would be turning in their graves to hear of the theatre's current parlous state.

As well as the Old Vic, our other "fringe" theatre The Tobacco Factory in Bedminster is also struggling. It is an intimite venue at the top of one of the former Wills factory buildings in Bedminster. It has put on plays from Shakespeare to "The Wills Girls" and has had great critical acclaim, but has not been commercially popular enough to ensure long term survival without additional funding and/or an injection of more successful marketing.
I do my best to support and urge others to do the same!

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Welsh Wedding!

On Saturday, I was in Wales again for the Wedding of my cousin David's daughter Gwen at Llangynyw and at Powis Castle. There had been torrential rain in the area on Friday but despite river flood warnings and maybe because of a lot of people keeping fingers crossed the weather for the ceremony and for the reception was exellent as was the occasion.

As usual I took many photos which can be seen here: -

Gwen & Will's wedding.

Very best wishes to the newlyweds.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

One of the Great Tragedies of Our Time

One of the Great Tragedies of our Time

One of the great tragedies of our time is that in our desperate incapacity to cope with the complexities of our world, we oversimplify every issue and reduce it to a neat ideological formula. Doubtless we have to do something in order to grasp things quickly and effectively. But unfortunately this "quick and effective grasp" too often turns out to be no grasp at all, or only a grasp on a shadow. The ideological formulas for which we are willing to tolerate and even provoke the destruction of entire nations may one day reveal themselves to have been the most complete deceptions....The American conscience is troubled by a sense of tragic ambiguity in our professed motives for massive intervention. Yet in the name of such tenuous and questionable motives we continue to bomb, to burn, and to kill because we think we have no alternative, and because we are reduced to a despairing trust in the assurance of "experts" in whom we have no real confidence.

Thomas Merton

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Celtic Tales

Today I have been away over the water into the "Land of My Fathers" - the Pricipality of Wales on a coach trip organised by my old friend and colleague John Vivian. We had excellent weather for the visits to two excellent places.

First we went to Castell Coch - the Red Castle, not old but in a lovely wooded setting in the hills overlooking the City of Cardiff. There were twenty-five former colleagues of the Bristol & West Building Society on the coach and we spent an enjoyable time looking around the castle, approaching it over a drawbridge above the dry moat. Built in the late 19th Century for one of the richest men of the time, the Marquess of Bute at the height of Victorian fancy for the medieval. Inside, the rooms are decorated and furnished lavishly in the most eccentric style with many wall paintings depicting scenes from Aesop's Fables (see above) and fantastic furnishings.
Further to the West of Cardiff is the wonderful National History Museum of Wales at St Fagans. I had wanted to go there for years and this was my opportunity to see it and also to see what they had done with my mother's "Ghost Bottle" or Witch Bottle (see second photo above). Back in 1983 my then little cousin Mark was playing outside my parents' cottage on the Welsh border near Oswestry, when under the old Yew Tree he found this jar or bottle, very heavy, as it is filled to halfway with lead. The story goes that a ghost once inhabited the cottage and so in order to remove the ghost, a priest or perhaps more likely a white witch was summoned in to pray the ghost down, into the bottle and this done, it would be sealed into the bottle with molten lead! Then the bottle would have been buried under the tree as Yew trees do have special mystical significance. So, there the bottle is, in the main gallery at St Fagans where it had been sent by my mother back in the 1980's for investigation. I was glad to see it again, and for the first time, the many other exhibits and houses displayed on the open air site. Houses, churches, mills, shops and many other representative buildings from all over Wales have been dismantled and taken from their original sites then put back together at St Fagans, now a working museum where carvers, millers, blacksmiths, farmers and other craftsmen and craftswomen demonstrate their rural trades for the visiting public. My Picasa photos show some of the highlights of our day.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Bristol's Little Rivers

Another good walk yesterday, this time with about 50 assorted Bristol Living Rivers supporters from Sea Mills, where the River Trym joins the Avon. We hiked upstream into Westbury where the Trym is joined from the North by the Hazel Brook, sometimes known as the Hen Brook which we then followed as far as its emergence from drainage pipes near the huge shopping centre at Cribbs Causeway.
My photos on Picasa tell the tale - but just to explain the gravestone in Henbury Churchyard! The boy was one of many young african slaves who had not been sent to the sugar cane fields of the West Indies or the Cotton Fields of America but was chosen to be a servant in the household of Bristol nobility. It seems he was treated well, though he must have been the object of much curiosity and novelty at the time.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Dragon flag flies on the top of the World

Congratulations to Tori James who has just climbed to the summit of Mount Everest 8,848 meters above sea level. She is a fellow member of the British Schools Exploring Society and is climbing with a team from the London School of Business. At 23 she is the youngest female Briton and first Welsh woman to have successfully made it to the top.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Father of Taxonomy

He's more influential than ABBA, more famous than Bjorn Borg and Sweden is celebrating today the 300th birthday of its most illustrious son: Carl Linnaeus, also known as Carl von Linné or Carolus Linnaeus. He is often called the Father of Taxonomy. His system for naming, ranking, and classifying organisms is still in wide use today and his ideas on classification have influenced generations of biologists during and after his own lifetime. His signature plant the Twin Flower, Linnea Borealis is to be seen in paintings of him as shown above.
This year's Chelsea Flower Show in London has a Linnaeus feature garden and Sweden's University of Uppsala, his alma mater, is holding various celebrations.

How times have changed!

Sorry about the quality of this but it is a genuine extract from a British sex education textbook for girls printed in the 1960's. Click on it to enlarge so as to read it easier! In the last paragraph I am wondering what the girls who read this originally thought their future husbands might have suggested in the line of "unusual practices"! I reckon there would have been a few giggles in the classroom!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Brislington Brook

Bristol like many British cities has grown over the centuries and many villages formerly outside the city walls have been subsumed into the whole and are now the kind of suburbs to be seen anywhere in the country. However on close inspection of the map there is parkland and wasteground between many of the built up areas. Often these "between" areas follow streams and are havens for both plants and animals.
Today's walk was through an area of Bristol that I do not know well and about 30 of us met near the southern edge of the city at Whitchurch to walk down the route of the Brislington Brook as far as St Anne's a Victorian parish church on the site of a much older monastic building and place of pilgrimage in times gone by.
As usual with these walks we were given full explanations of the history of the area and any buildings of note were pointed out and their names explained. For example a side street pub we passed called The Pilgrim Inn was named so, because it was on the regular route taken by pilgrims walking to St Anne's Well, including King Henry VII who visited twice.
Sometimes we were traipsing though quite long grass and plant cover, at other times on well used woodland paths but mostly we were oblivious to the busy roads beyond and to either side of the Brook. The second photograph shows a magnificent but weary old Plane tree, standing by the brook in Nightingale Valley.

Busy on the rocks

Saturday Night

I've been busy! This weekend I have three field trips planned. Two are complete and the third will start at 10am on Sunday morning.
The first which was organised by the West of England Geologists' Association, was to a huge, now disused limestone quarry on the English side of the River Wye in Gloucestershire. Our leader Nick Chidlaw chose a bright and breezy clear day to take us to see some spectacular scenery and interesting rock types and stratigraphy.
The trip finished for me at about 5:30pm though some soldiered on to one more terrace above that on the second photo. I drove back to Bristol to have a short break before field trip number 2.

This evening, I met fellow members of the Avon Bat Group and some public visitors for a "Bat Walk" in Leigh Woods to the west of the River Avon at Bristol. There was a good mix of people, adults and enthusiastic children, enjoying a sometimes led by torchlight walk through the woods. Several bats, mostly Common and Soprano Pipistrelles were seen and heard on Bat Detectors and there was a possible sighting of a Serotine Bat flying low in one of the clearings. It is still a bit early in the season for bats and this was the first organised walk, but the Bat Detectors where chirruping away with bat sound. By the time of the July walk there will be many more flying, though of course dusk will be much later. On our way back there were great views over Bristol by night and of the cresent moon, accompanied closely by the cresent planet Venus. Sadly no camer and tripod at the time!

Tomorrow - another trip - this time another Bristol Living Rivers Project walk this time down the Brislington Brook. - I will write on that after the event I hope!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wine, women and song!

Yesterday I really enjoyed the concert at St George's Bristol where Gretchen Peters (above), Suzy Boggus and Matraca Berg were peforming their first booking of the latest UK tour. The wonderful accoustics of the former church, together with three wonderful singer-songwriters and an appreciative audience resulted in a great evening. These Nashville ladies were clearly enjoying themselves and recieved a well deserved standing ovation at the end.

Monday, May 14, 2007

My Antarctic Photo of the Day

The weather has been awful this weekend. Lots of rain, so the farmers will be happier but not so good for getting out into the countryside. So back to South Georgia! - King Penquins en garde!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Plea to Japan

I have said it before and no doubt I will need to say it again, but I would like to voice my concern about the future of whale conservation. In a few day's time Japan will once again try and get enough support from other members of the International Whaling Commission in order to rescind the 25 year old moratorium on commercial whaling. The IWC are meeting in Anchorage, Alaska this month and concern is mounting. The moratorium has been openly flouted as this photo shows only too graphically.
The whale meat trade in the far east is in my opinion totally indefensible, Japanese Kobe beef is wonderful, as is beef from many other countries including my own and like it or not, cattle are farmed sustainably for this purpose. But whales are still an unsustainable resource and though there has been some recovery, many species are still endangered and will be more so if commercial whaling resumes. I have been to watch whales, and have been privileged to see them enjoying the freedom of the oceans on several occasions. There is income to be derived from all the tourists who want to see the whales and I urge Japan and all the other whaling Nations to think about converting their whale catching and harpooning ships to scrap and concentrating on the world benefit of seeing and photographing whales for generations to come.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Benighted Benin

Here in Bristol this year we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. There are fascinating exhibitions and linked events here, but in far away West Africa slavery still exists. Evil people are still carrying on exploiting children as young as five years old. Plan UK have just sent me their latest e-magazine and it makes chilling reading as nothing seems to be able to be done to stop the traffickers, such is the criminal power that they wield as soon as the authorities try to move in. Well done Plan for bringing it to my attention - I am powerless to do anything, but at least I can tell my friends. This little Benin slave girl Afi is just 9 years old.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Shelduck Ordeal

I was amazed this morning on an excellent walk organised for members of the Bristol Ornithological Club [BOC] to the Gordano Valley. What caused my amazement was the sight of nine Shelduck in a field on Weston Moor, 2 or 3 kilometres from the sea coast which is their usual habitat. Well not so much the sight, as they can fly anywhere, but the tale we were told: They like nesting in the willow thickets near to one of the many rhynes (drainage ditches) in this area of relative safety for them. However once the ducklings are old enough and long before they can fly, they have to be led by their mothers from their nest sites, over several fields, over two roads and over a hill to reach the coast and they walk the whole way. Have a look at the map! There is a public footpath [the red dashed line] marked on the map from Weston Moor, it goes Northwestward across the B3124 road towards Walton Bay in the Severn Estuary, but most ducks of my acquaintance anyway, can't read maps or road signs!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Best Stories of Childhood -

I was discussing earlier with a friend our best remembered and loved childhood stories. In England I think I am right in saying that Antoine de St Exupery's "The Little Prince" is not as well known as it should be and I introduced to her "The Colour Kittens," a little tale by Margaret Wise Brown and ilustrated by Alice & Martin Provensen that in my family, entranced several generations of children.
I expect my brother and his family has the copy that was in our parents' house from the 1940's on. It is still in print but I am going to stick my neck out and "privately" publish it here because I like it and so does every child of three years old going on seventy that I know. The Colour (Mostly on Google as Color) Kittens is a timeless and educational story of Hush and Brush so listen!
“Once there were two colour kittens with green eyes, Brush and Hush. They liked to mix and make colours by splashing one colour into another. They had buckets and buckets and buckets and buckets of colour to splash around with. Out of these colours they would make all the colours in the world.
The buckets had the colours written on them, but of course the kittens couldn’t read.
They had to tell by the colours. ‘It is very easy,’ said Brush. ‘Red is red. Blue is blue.’ said Hush. But they had no green. ‘No green paint!’ said Brush and Hush. And they wanted green paint of course, because nearly every place they liked to go was green. Green as cats’ eyes. Green as grass. By streams of water. Green as glass. So they tried to make some green paint.
Brush mixed red paint and white paint together - and what did that make? It didn’t make green. But it made pink. Pink as pigs. Pink as toes. Pink as a rose. Or a baby’s nose.
Then Hush mixed yellow and red together, and it made orange. Orange as an orange tree. Orange as a bumblebee. Orange as the setting sun. Sinking slowly in the sea. The kittens were delighted, but it didn’t make green.
Then they mixed red and blue together - and what did that make? It didn’t make green. It made a deep dark purple. Purple as violets. Purple as prunes. Purple as shadows on late afternoons. Still no green!
And then…
O wonderful kittens! O Brush! O Hush! At last, almost by accident, the kittens poured a bucket of blue and a bucket of yellow together, and it came to pass that they made a green as green as grass. Green as green leaves on a tree. Green as islands in the sea.
The little kittens were so happy with all the colours they had made that they began to paint everything around them. They painted… Green leaves and red berries, and purple flowers and pink cherries. Red tables and yellow chairs, black trees with golden pears.
Then the kittens got so excited they knocked their buckets upside down and all the colours ran together.
Yellow, red, a little blue and a little black…and that made brown. Brown as a tugboat, brown as an old goat, brown as a beaver. BROWN. And in all that brown, the sun went down. It was evening and colours began to disappear in the warm dark night.
The kittens fell asleep in the warm dark night with all their colours out of sight and as they slept they dreamed their dream - A wonderful dream of a red rose tree that turned all white when you counted three…One…Two..Three. Of a purple land in a pale pink sea, where apples fell from a golden tree. And then a world of Easter eggs that danced about on little short legs. And they dreamed of a mouse, a little gray mouse that danced on a cheese that was big as a house. And a green cat danced with a little pink dog, till they all disappeared in a soft grey fog.
And suddenly Brush woke up and Hush woke up. It was morning. they crawled out of bed into a big bright world. The sky was wild with sunshine. The kittens were wild with purring and pouncing - Pounce Pounce Pounce. They got so pouncey they knocked over the buckets and all the colours ran out together. There were all the colours in the world and the colour kittens had made them.
Sing Ho for the colour of Brush. Sing Ho for the colour of Hush. Sing Ho for the colour of Brush and Hush. Sing Ho for the colour of colour.
Now hush!”

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Language acquisition

The Yerkes National Primate Center in Atlanta GA has come up with some interesting but not very startling ideas about the acquisition of language in early humans from study of the behaviour of Bonobos and Chimps. This week’s New Scientist carries the full article.
Human spoken language they postulate, may have evolved from a complex and varied set of hand and arm gestures, not simply through improvements in the basic vocalisations made by primates.
Bonobos and chimps both split from the line that led to Homo sapiens about six million years ago, and they themselves parted about 2.5 million years ago. However, several lines of evidence suggest we are slightly closer to bonobos than we are to chimps. De Waal says that their work suggests bonobos are a more useful species for understanding the evolution of language. For one thing, they seem to have moved further from the common ancestor, at least in terms of the complexity of their communication, than have chimps.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

May Day Walk to Work

Sadly there are no Bank Holidays for us here in Britain this week. Next Monday we do have though! Quite apart from the fact that my car is sick and is in the garage being fixed, it was a lovely day to walk to and from work today. I took my camera and have uploaded my shots to Flickr - please take a look! I am very lucky to have such a green and leafy route to take with only the busy Bristol Ring Road to cross on foot at a badly marked crossing point! The University campus grounds with ponds and streams are well worth a short detour. The walk takes me about half an hour and I really should do it more often!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

My Photo of the Day

The Roman Bath in the city of Bath, just 8 miles away from Bristol. There is a new spa centre just outside this building, the Thermae Bath Spa which has cost millions of pounds to complete and is proving very popular. The natural spring that provides the water emerges at a hot 47 degrees Centigrade - [see link above] but I would not reccomend drinking too much of it!

Monday, April 23, 2007

St George's Day

Patron of many but little is known! Today April 23rd, is St Georges Day, the Patron Saint of England, but widely ignored by most of my fellow English. I suppose the majority have heard of him, “he killed the dragon, didn’t he,” but few know more than that and it is to some, a shame that a public holiday on this day is not celebrated.
In researching this little article I have found the excellent website of Woodlands Junior School of Tonbridge in Kent and I commend it to you dear reader! The Wikipedia article lists all the patronages of our Saint, but to raise an eyebrow or two here are a few of his many!
Scouts; butchers; farmers; Bulgaria, Greece, Germany; Genoa and Moscow; saddle makers and syphilis sufferers; archers and shepherds; horses, sheep and lepers.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Flightless Steamer Duck

My blog is now over one year old and in celebration of this here is my photo of a Flightless Steamer Duck (Tachyeres brachypterus) and her little family who were sitting in this pebble beach outside Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands enjoying the spring sunshine - Late November 2005

Monday, April 16, 2007

My Photo of the Day

Another remarkably warm day yesterday and so I took myself off for a walk not far from home. The Dower House in the background, originally a private house, then a hospital, is now converted to luxury flats. Between it and the camera the M32 Motorway runs in a cutting, left towards Bristol city centre.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Britain is in Bloom!

Magnolia and Daffodils
Britain is in Bloom! Mid April has to be the very best time of year to appreciate our countryside and colour. Any later than this and the trees, bushes and other plants have come into full matronly leaf, but now daffodils and primroses are still in flower, bright yellow forsythia bushes and many trees are in full blossom, most notably the large white or pink flowers on the magnolias in many gardens. In the fields, new spring lambs are playing, testing their young legs and their mothers’ patience and the dawn chorus from many small birds courting and defending their territories makes a welcome return to my ears.
Yesterday afternoon I drove from Bristol to Banbury which is a town a few miles north of Oxford. The route took me through some of southern England’s best small towns and villages with picturesque names like Adlestrop, Bourton on the Water, Stow on the Wold, the Rollrights, Upper and Lower Slaughter, Hook Norton, famous for its brewery and Slad, famous for having been the haunt of Laurie Lee who wrote Cider With Rosie.
The landscape away from the built-up areas is mixed farmland and scattered woodland, with rolling hills and small river valleys. Almost fully in flower are many fields of Oil-seed Rape – Canola, making whole hillsides of brilliant yellow. I am not usually allergic to flower pollen but Canola seems to make me sneeze and so for the next few weeks I will try to avoid it.
Any variation in my route would not have mattered with great views nearly all the way, and today I did just that for my return this morning. The only sad sight to report at this time of year is to see all the young badgers lying dead at the side of roads, I must have seen six at least. I understand that the young males are ejected by their parents and begin to roam farther afield and so, inevitably some get caught in the glare of vehicle headlights and are run over.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Good News for Easter!

At least today, Easter Monday there has been at least one good piece of environmental news. The Kazakhstan government has secured a multi-million dollar loan from the World Bank to help save the Aral Sea; a formerly huge inland sea that because of mismanagement in the days of Russian domination shrank to only a quarter of its former size during the last third of the 20th Century.

Many years ago, as a child I was encouraged by my mother in a general knowledge and memory game we called "categories". We would choose a subject, say animals, and make an alphabetical list, scoring a point for every entry not duplicated by another player. Thus Animals might start with Antelope and finish with Zebra; while Seas would start with Aral and finish with Zuider Zee, which ironically is another sea that has virtually disappeared, though that was deliberate, providing the Dutch with more land for agricultural expansion at the expense of a former fishing resource. [Jan de Hartog's 1951 story The Lost Sea, tells a wonderful tale of his own experiences as a ship's boy during the last days of this fishery before the creation of the polders.]

With the Aral Sea, the Zazakhs plan to build a new dam to hold back water in part of the nothern area and there are reports of improvements already.

Please see also the 2003 report with its dramatic images of the sea from space and the photo of a former fishing village now 150km from the sea, with nothing but a salty desert between.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

BBC Antiques Road Show at Bristol

On Sunday I went to the Great Hall of the University of Bristol to join hundreds of other people with boxes and packages wanting to have valuations for their antique treasures from the experts of the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. For many years, one of the early evening highlights of Sunday's TV has been this excellent programme. It is recorded months in advance of transmission and so whether or not I will be seen in one of the crowd scenes, I do not know.
Anyway! – I arrived early to join the queue of people in the road before the building opened at 9:30 am and shuffled slowly forward until, much later I took
one of my treasured books to be seen by Clive Farahar the book expert. He was a bit scathing about the way it had been professionally rebound but generally liked it and valued it at £100, which was around what I thought. I then went to join another queue for the “Miscellaneous” experts to show them my 1860’s binocular brass microscope which I bought while I was still at school for what was to me then quite a lot of money - £18. It is housed in a fine mahogany case and is a good example of its type and made by W. Ladd of London. John Foster, the expert who saw me, liked it immediately and said that he wanted to get it filmed for the show and asked if I could wait until a suitable time could be found with the producers. To cut a long story short, it was not filmed as there were too many excellent antiques presented on the day for all to be included. He valued it at £1,200 - £1,800 which is a little more than I had expected. My other piece did not fare so well. An almost identical late 18th Century compass type microscope [see the bottom of the photograph], I had seen valued elsewhere in the thousands, he gave me a value of only £500 or so. Considering that the compass microscope had come to me in the box with the binocular microscope, I cannot complain at the total value being over one hundred times what I had paid, albeit over 40 years ago!
It was great listening to the experts, mostly familiar TV personalities in their own right, talking so knowledgeably to some of the other people there, sometimes with pleasing valuations, some not quite what the owners had hoped for. Also interesting were some of the quaint and curious items that were being brought into the hall. In front of me at one stage had been a 17th Century oak chair, well made to have lasted this long, but nevertheless very damaged and worm eaten. I wouldn’t have thought it could have been worth more than £50, but what do I know?! Another was a fine sword with an intricate handle made of Bristol Blue glass; that, they did film.