Woodpecker

great spotted woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker

I love to see birds in my garden and especially at the feeders, which I can clearly see through my kitchen window, and since I do most of my computing at the kitchen table I do take frequent glances outside.

Over the past years there has always been lots of pigeons monopolizing the feeders and keeping all but the bravest of small birds at bay. But over recent months I have noticed something of a change. There seems to be far fewer pigeons about. Instead of the usual 8 or 10 at a time we seem to be down to only one or two, maybe three, at less frequent intervals. Pigeons are a bit of a nuisance and, yes, I have often said that we have far too many; but I don’t dislike the birds and would not like them to disappear altogether. I can’t help wondering if the steady increase in birds of prey in the area is to blame. I often see buzzards circling around and have also seen peregrine falcons on occasions, which are known to catch pigeons and other birds in flight. I have also come across complete bundles of feathers on the ground which could not possibly have been left by a cat for example. We no longer have a cat, but even when we did there was no way she would tackle a pigeon!

Nuthatch

Nuthatch

On the plus side, the reduction in the pigeon population has allowed far more of our small garden birds to visit the feeders. As well as the usual blue-tits, coal-tits, great-tits, long-tailed-tits, robins, sparrows and various finches that have ventured in when the pigeons are around, we have been visited this year, since the pigeon’s decline, by several nuthatches – the first time that I have ever noticed them in our garden. They are a joy to watch. Blackbirds are also regulars but there seems to be an increase in thrushes as well, and particularly I have noticed redwing thrushes feasting on the Pyracantha berries against the fence this year, having been noticeably absent for a couple of years.

Starlings had been gradually increasing too, a nuisance in some areas and considered pests where I grew up, I hardly ever saw them here until a few years ago and gradually we saw a few more, but never more than half a dozen or so. Now they have now disappeared again and I wonder why.

However there is one bird I have never seen in my garden before, though I know other people outside my immediate area who do have them regularly, and that is a Great Spotted Woodpecker. What a wonderful surprise to see one, a female, fly in to our feeders. Just the one, just the once – so far; at least when I have been looking. Perhaps with this spell of cold weather we have been having she will become a more frequent visitor, then perhaps I may get my own photo instead of sharing the one above which, along with the picture of the Nuthatch, I found on the Internet!

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Christmas Cake

One of the problems with going on an Autumn holiday and not getting home until Christmas is only a shout away is that everything becomes a rush to catch up. However, I have today at last made my Christmas Cake and have just extricated it from the oven.

We don’t eat a lot of cake these days so I don’t do much baking, but Christmas is that bit special and I usually make a point of making my own. Last year I didn’t get home from our Autumn vacation until early December, giving me even less time, so I admit I cheated and bought one. It was nice, but this year I was determined to do it myself once more. (Sorry, no picture as it is still cooling down in the tin and won’t be decorated until nearer the time.)

In the past I have made a recipe inherited from my mother but this has caused a few problems in recent years. It requires the cake to be put in a cold electric oven which is then turned on and the cake baked for however many hours, then you turn it off and leave it in until the oven is cold. I usually arranged to turn it off just before I went to bed and it could then stay there cooling down until morning. The first problem with this is that the recipe was devised pre-fan ovens and although my oven is electric it is a fan oven. This simply fact actually alters the required cooking time and I never managed to perfect the adjustment so sometimes the cake came out just a little too well done around the edges – still nice in the middle though. The other problem is that most of my family are not actually over-fond of rich fruit cake (I love it!) and now the offspring have all-but left the roost this particular recipe makes a cake that is far too big for my current needs, and again, with the cooking problems it presents too much of a problem to half the quantity and re-adjust the cooking time – it’s not as if it is something I do on a regular basis so that I can practice variations, it needs to be right first time.

For the last several years I have been thinking of trying a different recipe to make a smaller cake and have from time to time researched in various recipe books. Just before we went away and conscious of the fact that I am trying to edge towards a wheat/gluten-free diet (see previous post here) I found a couple of recipes in two gluten-free cook books I have acquired and decided to try one of those. Gluten-free? The only discernible difference from your average rich fruit cake recipe is that it uses rice flour rather than wheat flour.

I have made the one that I thought sounded easiest, though there was not much to choose between them. If I am sufficiently well organised I might make some notes on what I think of it and maybe try the other one next year so that I can decide between the two which one to favour in the future. I can’t wait to try it.

 

Travelling

Once more I’m off on my travels. While we are away we will be taking part in the Pedals de Clip classic road-race bike rally in Catalonia, Spain (for more information click here.) As so often Internet access will be variable so I will not be posting here for the next month. I should be back around mid-June. While I’m away I hope to get to grips with the e-book version of ‘Simply Elfje’ and, with luck, have it available on my return.

Sorry!

Sorry, no proper post today. Having been very busy publishing ‘Simply Elfje’ before taking a break to go sailing I am now spending all my time compiling the magazine that I edit twice a year for a sailing association we belong to. The Spring/Summer issue should be out around now, so I’m having to prioritize – I must get the magazine done. Then maybe I can concentrate on issuing the e-book version of ‘Simply Elfje’ – I promise you it will be worth the wait!

The Best Laid Plans…

Barbican 33 yachtMy regular readers will know that I have been away for a couple of weeks. The plan was that we would take our sailing boat, a Barbican 33 called ‘Red Dawn IV’ (a 33ft family cruising yacht pictured) across to Calais, where we would get the mast removed and stowed along the cabin top before entering the French canals. We were intending to leave the boat in Lille until after our return from our forthcoming classic road race bike rally in Spain next month. Then we would return to the yacht, take it through the Belgian canals into Holland where we planned to leave it over the coming winter.

So we went, via Ramsgate and Dover, to Calais. As we went through the swing bridge into the marina we passed two boats coming out on their way to the canal entrance. One was a motorboat from Ramsgate, the other was a yacht crewed by a group of young Australians, who had also had their mast removed. We booked our mast removal and began the preparations for doing this. We took the sails off the boat and I hoisted my husband up the mast so he could remove the Radar dome and some of the ‘yachting string’ ready for the mast to be lifted off the next day. That night the two boats we had passed returned to Calais.

They had paid for their inland waterways licences and as mentioned the Australian foursome had paid to have their mast removed. They had been allowed to lock through into the canal and travelled a couple of miles up the canal to the first bridge where they came to a standstill. After some time and several phone calls they discovered that the canal bridges were all closed and they could not proceed down the canal. Nowhere had this been explained or the information displayed. The Australians had paid – a lot of money I might add – for a month on the canals, to get to the south of France where they planned to sell the boat before returning home to Australia. They had also done thorough research about their trip and nowhere had this closure come up. It was not mentioned on the French inland waterways website.

After many phone calls over several hours the girl in the marina office in Calais was eventually able to confirm that this was in fact the case and the canal would not open for another 10 or 11 days. The motorboat couple had only paid for a week (and that was expensive enough!) so there was no way they could get into the canals. They decided to return to the UK and try to get their money back since they had been sold a useless licence.

We considered our options but at the end of the day decided that we hadn’t got sufficient time to wait and then get to our chosen destination. So it was up the mast again for my husband to replace all the detached components and on with the sails once more – we too would return home. Meanwhile the Australians had little option but to try to continue. They chose to motor up to Dunkirk and enter the canal system there. With no mast and sails and a fairly rough sea they had a lumpy journey but last we heard they had made it safely and were in the canals. We wish them good luck for their onward journey.

We were annoyed and disappointed but at least we hadn’t removed our mast and paid for our licence. We crossed back to Dover and then on to Ramsgate where we met up with the aforementioned motor-boaters to lick our wounds. Here strong winds blowing in the wrong direction kept us in harbour for several days before we could finally make our return to our home port of Bradwell in Essex, where we had cancelled our marina berth. We had to phone ahead to see if we could have a berth for the season after all and fortunately they were able to oblige (we have been there many years and they know us well). We then had to wait a couple of days until our son could come to pick us up as we had no car there – we weren’t intending to return! It’s a good thing we had the folding bikes so we could at least get out and about while we waited.

It seems that the French left hand doesn’t know what its right-hand is doing. Why on earth did they sell people canal licences and let them into a canal that wasn’t open? As I say, at least we had not involved ourselves in this wasted expense, but I wonder what real hope the couple on the motorboat have of getting their money back. Our plans for later in the summer are now completely upset and we shall have to do a lot of re-thinking. To be fair though, we did have a couple of lovely, relaxing weeks away on the boat, even if the WIFI was frequently unreliable, but then it is good to have time away from that too!

Panic Time

From time to time I post about my cycling activities. Just lately however I don’t seem to have had a great deal of time for cycling – either too busy with other things or the weather just hasn’t been inviting (I’m a bit of a fair weather rider). Occasional rides out on wet roads have needed major bike washing sessions on my return.

Revised Book CoverOne of my main excuses recently has been my latest book ‘Simply Elfje’ which is now nearing completion. The picture shows my revised (final) version of the cover. I have given myself an Easter deadline to get it done and that is fast approaching. The reason for this particular deadline is that I have so much coming up during the lead up to and after Easter that if I don’t get it done by then it will end up not getting done until July or August. So far I am on track. Fingers crossed.

Working on the book though, as I said, has made it difficult to get out on the bike very often and this is my reason for panic. At the end of April we are hoping to do a 45 mile charity ride in aid of our local hospice and then at the end of May we are already booked for a 40K Classic Road Race Bike rally in Spain.

I have mentioned these events before but I’m panicking because I haven’t done much training and now I’m really getting a bit worried that I won’t make the distance. On top of that we will soon be away for at least a couple of weeks as we are taking our yacht over to France. While on the boat I won’t be doing much cycling. Yes, we do have folding bikes on the boat but these are not good for serious cycling over long distances. They are a boon for going shopping or local sight-seeing, but a long ride? Forget it! We’ve tried it – jolly uncomfortable!

I have been getting out on the bike more over the last few days and today would be a good day for a ride too but I had to stay in this morning waiting for a builder to come and look at a little problem with a leak in a corner of our conservatory and also I’m so far behind with the boring things like house work that I do desperately need to give the house a blitz. On top of that I still have work to do on the book (final proof read!) and I’m expecting a visitor later, but maybe I’ll fit in a short ride after that. Tuesday and Wednesday mornings are out, so is Thursday afternoon – I have other engagements, but with a bit of luck I might fit something round those. I’m just going to have to make the effort. I’m loving my modern Raleigh road bike but I do need to get out on the classic bike soon too and once more get used to fact that I haven’t got as many gears to play with – those hills will get tougher!

Book Launch Day

On Saturday 11th March  I held the official Book Launch for my new children’s story book “The Thirsty Flowers” although the book has been available since just before Christmas. This launch event was in two parts.

First I held an on-line launch on my Facebook Author’s Page, with a week of promoting the launch beforehand to encourage people to support the event. I also held a Free Giveaway competition. This sadly didn’t attract quite as many entrants as I had hoped – maybe because the book was  for children and not many children are on my email list! This is the first time I have done a ‘virtual event’ and hopefully I will do it better next time. Perhaps two weeks of publicity would have been better and probably I also need to find a way to reach more people. My main reason for doing it though was simply to feel that the arrival of the book had been celebrated in some way and in that I guess it served its purpose.

Outside the children's shopI also held a book signing session in my local High Street. A local children’s clothing shop kindly stocks my book along with my children’s poetry book “Barking At Nothing” so I arranged to hold my signing session there. The shop is on the corner of a small arcade, with the door just inside the arcade and we had agreed that if it was a nice day I would set-up my stall in the arcade just outside the shop but I could be inside the shop if it was cold. It was a nice day so I set-up in the arcade as planned.

After a while it was obvious that I was not really all that visible so I moved to a position at the entrance to the arcade and this proved to be much better, though it was not quite so sheltered and I did begin to feel cold towards the end of my time there.

With a young customerOne thing that I did notice during the two hours I sat there was how few people were walking up and down our High Street on what you would think would be a busy Saturday morning. High Streets are generally reported to be in decline and it seems ours is no exception despite the many interesting buildings.

However, like so many now, our High Street is full of places to eat, hairdressers and gift shops with not a lot else and these types of shops do not cater to everyday needs (how many times a week do you need a hair cut?). The Post Office, Newsagents, main Supermarket and the Chippy are all on a different street. Consequently the footfall was low and I gather it has been a problem since the last bank closed its doors.

There were times when none of the passers-by seemed at all interested in what I was doing there and I regretted not taking a book to read, but despite the low footfall I did manage to sell several copies of my book and was also given a few donations for the charity I support. Overall it was an enjoyable morning and at least I feel as if the book has now been launched in style.

Cockney Alphabet

Last month I wrote a post about Cockney Rhyming Slang (you can read it here ). You wouldn’t Adam and Eve (believe) how many more expressions I remembered once I had published it, but I’m not going to add any more to that now.

Also at risk of being forgotten these days is the Cockney Alphabet. Now, as I said before, I am not a Cockney. I was introduced to the slang and to the alphabet by my Dad, but he was not a Cockney either. I’m guessing that he picked these up from his fellow merchant seamen during WWII, some of whom probably were Cockneys.

I can’t remember all the alphabet, maybe my Dad didn’t know it all, but again it can be found with a google search and as with the slang there are many alternatives for the same thing. I have listed here those I do remember but had to look up suggestions for some of memory gaps and some that I do remember are not quite the same as those I have found on the internet but here goes:

A for ‘orses (speaks for itself!)
B for mutton (beef or mutton)
C for fishes (again obvious)

Then I had to look up: D for Kate (defecate)
and E for brick (heave a brick) or Eve for Adam

F for vescence (effervescence)

Again I looked up: G for Police (chief of police apparently!)
and H for bless you (Aitsshfa! A sneeze) of H for retirement (age for retirement)

I for lutin’ (highfalutin) or I for an eye
J for organge (Jaffa orange or even Jaffa Cakes)
K for restaurant (cafe  or restaurant)
L for leather
M for size (emphasise)
N for lope (envelope)
O for ture (overture or ‘O for the wings of a dove,’ ‘Over the rainbow’ etc.)
P for a penny (you know – spend a penny!)
Q for busses (queue – obvious again!)
R for mo (‘arf a mo’ – half a moment, ie wait a moment)

Had to look up: S for you (as for you)

T for two (tea for two)
U for mism (euphemism)
V for La France (vive La France or even viva Espana)
W for quits (‘Double you for quits’ or ‘double your money’  amongst others!)
X for size (exercise) or X for breakfast (eggs for breakfast)
Y for husband/mistress (wife or husband/mistress)

and finally I had to look up: Z for wind (zephyr wind!)

I have no idea what use you will find for this information but you must agree it is rather fun and it would be a shame for it to just become a distant, long-forgotten memory.

Sail or Sale

I have probably mentioned before that we have a sailing yacht. It is a Barbican 33 designed by the late Maurice Griffiths, a naval architect and long-term editor of Yachting Monthly magazine. Her name is Red Dawn IV, the previous owner having also owned Red Dawn’s I, II and III. It is considered unlucky to change the name so we kept it. She has been pictured on this blog before but here she is again:

Barbican 33 yacht

We have both been sailing for many years. I learned to sail in dinghies as a teenager and my husband spent some of his childhood holidays on board his uncle’s yacht. After we were married we lived on the Essex coast where we first owned a Tideway sailing dinghy and then, when the children came along, progressed to family sailing cruisers. There were a few years that we didn’t have a boat, when we had moved inland due to my husband’s job and while the children were growing up and into other things, but eventually the bug bit again.

We have owned several yachts since returning to boating and have owned Red Dawn IV for about 12 years now I think. We have always kept our boats on the East Coast, despite now living a fair distance away in the north-west midlands. We love the sailing there, it is less crowded (and cheaper) than the south coast and it is handy for crossing to Europe where we have enjoyed the French and Belgian coast and cruising the Dutch inland waterways.

Many people carry on sailing until they reach a ripe old age, but by then their sailing activities slow down and they struggle to keep up with the boat’s maintenance. Indeed, go to any marina and you will find a quite ‘graveyard’ corner where boats go to die, their owners no longer fit enough to sail and the boats in unsellable condition. The longer they lie there the more unlikely it is that they will be sold as they deteriorate even more. Anxious to avoid that fate for Red Dawn IV, a couple of years ago my husband decided it was time to sell the yacht while we were still fit and active, after all we are not getting any younger. Besides we had other interests we could move on to and we could satisfy our wanderlust with a motor home. We put the boat on the market.

The boat is in excellent condition and is maintained and equipped to a high specification, but it didn’t sell. In with plan B. This was to sail the boat through the French Canals to the Mediterranean, where we would leave it somewhere near where our daughter lives in Spain. We took the boat off the market, checked out some marinas and fully prepared the boat for this trip. However, due to various circumstances, not least the fact that we couldn’t find a marina that we felt offered what we were looking for bearing in mind how infrequently we would be able to visit, that plan went by the board.

We had given up our home marina berth and its annual fee in preparation for the trip so now we decided to put the boat on the market once more. To avoid the costly expense of having it put back in the water and pay a monthly, rather than annual fee, we left the boat high and dry on the hard. This time we really would sell it! With the boat out of the water we did not sail at all last year but enjoyed several trips away in our motor home instead, including a longer trip for about six weeks in the autumn taking in France and Spain and able to visit further afield than is possible when you are confined to waterways.

Again the boat didn’t sell and we are now on Plan C. We have taken the boat off the market once more and have decided to keep her a bit longer. We are returning to the idea of taking her into the French canals, but not through to the Med. Having spoken to friends who juggle their time between boat and motor home, often leap-frogging the two around together on the continent, it seems like a tempting solution. We now plan to return the boat to the water and cross over to France in the spring. We are no longer interested in heroic sea voyages  so we will cruise around the French and Belgian canals and perhaps into Holland, overwintering wherever we chose and then returning to do the same the following year. We will follow the boat around with the motor home and also use the motor home to visit other locations and to cross into Spain for visits there. At least that’s the plan.

Rhyming Slang

St Mary-le-Bow church

St Mary-le-Bow Church

I read recently that Cockney Rhyming Slang is in danger of dying out because young people today have no interest in it. Now I’m not a Cockney, you have to be born within hearing distance of Bow Bells (the church bells of St. Mary-le-Bow) in the Cheapside district of London’s East End for that. The bells can be heard for a maximum radius of about six miles. I’m not even a Londoner, having been born in the north-west midlands, not far from where I now live, although I have moved around in the intervening years. However I have always been a rhymester, rhyme fascinates me and so rhyming slang fascinates me.

The explanation given for the development of this form of slang is supposed to be that the East End market traders could hold a conversation with each other in this coded language and casual customers or bystanders would not know what they were talking about. So in the interests of keeping this tradition alive I share with you here a list of some of the rhyming slang terms I am familiar with. I assure you there are many others as a Google search will demonstrate.

North and south – mouth
Todd Sloan – alone
Apples and pears – stairs
Daisy Roots – boots
Butcher’s Hook – look
Porky Pies – lies
Skin and blister – sister
Barnet Fair – hair
Trouble and strife – wife
Loaf of bread – head
Whistle and flute – suit (of clothes)
Titfer-tat (ie tit for tat) – hat
Lionel Blairs – flares (flared trousers. Lionel Blair was a dancer/entertainer)
Plates of meat – feet
Half inch – pinch (as in steal)
Johnny Horner – corner
….and last but not least…
Jimmy Riddle – piddle (ie a comfort break!)

Typically these phrases would often get shortened, so you might say ‘Let me have a butchers’ for ‘let me have a look’, or ‘Nice titfer’ if you admire someone’s hat. ‘You’re telling porkies’ means you are telling lies, ‘on my tod’, means on my own and the ubiquitous ‘use your loaf’ means use your head, think about it, apply brain.

As I have said, there are many more such phrases to be found on the Internet in addition to those above, and even some alternatives to those I have given. Let’s keep the tradition alive!

 

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