June 2010

For the last few days of the week I have been suffering from a stiff neck and strange vision.  I put it down to sitting for too long in front of a computer screen as I have been doing little teaching and much timetabling.  My eyes have annoyed me so much that I wore glasses to school instead of contact lenses for Thursday and Friday of last week.  But the neck and the vision have been restored to normal after a far from normal weekend.

This weekend was an activity weekend down on the Strangford peninsula organised by the lovely Sharon.  As I was not part of her organising or not involved with looking after her students I could slip away and relax, apart from Saturday when they were harnessed and roped and suspended 20 meters off the ground.

On the Friday night I was dispatched to top up her food supplies for the weekend and was then off duty.  This involved relaxing in a hidden garden with a friend.  We sat on a patio around a wood fire and talked nonsense into the darkness.  Later we were joined by the canoeing instructor and swapped stories to amuse each other.  When the time came to sleep we could find no good reason to retire from the warm fire.  With the cool air and the stars out it seemed like more sense to bivvy out by the wood smoke.  In the morning the good reasons could be counted as tiny holes (and one large one) in the sleeping bags; products of spray sparks.  On reflection this was balanced by being woken at first light by the dawn chorus which was worth it.

camp fire by mundoo

I had a very leisurely breakfast before activities began.  After munching through porridge and strong coffee I put on my contact lenses and pondered.  I wondered if it was possible that I had slipped up.  I am normally very fussy about how I treat my contact lenses nearly to the point of obsessive compulsion.  But, could I have made a mistake?  On a hunch I took off my lenses, swapped them, then put them back in.  The imperceptive strangeness of my vision was gone.  For over a week I have been wearing them in the wrong eyes.

After climbing I again had some time to spare before a late high ropes and zip line session.  It was time to walk the beach and catch up on some reading.  It seems these relaxing things were what I needed to let my neck unwind, literally.

The lovely Sharon organised a classic barbecue for the evening.  But we had no barbecue.  One of the instructors told us we could steal one from a neighbouring chalet as he was sure they did not need it, the only problem was that it was seriously heavy.  A few of us began to drag it over as one of the chalet’s guests arrived into view and began to laugh.  I am unsure if it was because we were stealing it or because we could never out run her.  We began the barbecue after much sweating and sore backs.  The lovely Sharon procured some brilliant quality burgers and some charcoal, but no fire lighters or lighter fluid to get it going.  This itself was not an issue but they would have helped as the wind was picking up and the barbecue was proving impossible to light.  So I made myself a tiny little portable barbecue in a tray and took it to the chalet wall to get it going well before using it to light what we now called the ‘beast’.  I am sure people must have wondered why I was trying to set fire to the chalet wall.

After eventually getting round to eating after all the students were fed and watered I slipped away to the garden.  Again the fire was lit and again we talked nonsense into the night as sitting around a wood fire will make you do.  And as the full moon began to rise with a summer evening orange glow we thought it far too civilised and sensible to retire indoors.  So, again we bivvyed by the fire for the night.  The logic was that all the sleeping bags already had holes in them anyway.

Logic also dictates that if you are woken from a deep sleep in the middle of the night by a very angry and menacing animal growl just centimetres from your face, you should be scared.  Looking back on it is strange that I was not.  But the growling was from the dog Meg who was curled up at my head and I knew instantly as I awoke that it was her sensing something and protecting her pack.  Within seconds she was up and running around the pack in a howling frenzy as some heavy sounding creature bounded through the forest undergrowth.  Sleepily we called her and reassured her so we could get some sleep.  In the morning, with steaming cups of tea and another dawn chorus we discussed who our visitor could have been.  The options were badger or otter.  My money is on an otter as we slept only meters away from the river bank were otters have been spotted, but I think Meg believes it was a monster.

I confess that when I first watched this I thought; Yes, Bobby would have heard the car first as he is a rabbit and has superior hearing to listen out for predators. He would have heard it way before any of us.

Ahhhhhh, I hate myself.

by whit balance

Life is not a Disney film but it seems like it at times.  On most of the mornings last week my drive to work took me past a very busy little squirrel.  He/she always seemed to be running about along the hedges on a cheerful early morning forage.  Then yesterday morning he was dead.  Limp and lifeless in the middle of the road.  There it is, I cannot sugar coat it or build you up to it as that is what it was like to me.  Every morning he gave me a little smile and maybe a chuckle then he left me with a little sadness and a squirrel shaped hole in my heart.  It was not his fault, it just simply is as it is.

It’s a film that is ten years old.  It was a complete failure at the box office and it was expensive to make, but I love it and for some strange reason it is one of my favorites.

I dug it out, dusted it off, and watched it again tonight.  It is science fiction and therefore quite unbelievable in the details but I guess one of the reasons I like it is because it is probably one of the least unbelievable of many scifi films.

It’s not a horror film and there are no big scary aliens.  However, there are scary aliens?  I think it is worth the watch but be prepared to be a little disappointed if you are used to very fast action big bang scifi or the thrill and suspense of the likes of pandorum (another favourite of mine).  Don’t get me wrong, it does have its action moments which are well paced and timed throughout the film.  It mixes this with a little philosophy and a bit of environmental self reflection.  Nothing too cerebral but enough to make it a good film.


Know the stars at all?



Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cetus, Lepus, Canis Minor. We’re looking at what you’d see south around midnight, mid-May if we were on Earth. At about 42 degrees.

(He’s not showing off. He just really does know. Chantilas looks at him, surprised.)


My grandfather taught me to sail when I was a kid.


He made me learn the stars in case all the G.P.S. satellites fell out of the sky at once. He said anyone who put his life in the hands of anything run by batteries was a jackass.


He sounds like quite a guy.


He didn’t like what he called the easy answer or the quick fix. He didn’t want to own anything he couldn’t repair himself.

(thinking back)

And, oh yeah, everything automatic sooner or later fails automatically, usually during or immediately before a crisis. He had a lotta damn sayings.


He wouldn’t’ve approved of this.


Going to Mars?


No. That we killed off half the living things on Earth. That after we all but destroyed one planet with global warming, we’re trying to bring another to life the same way. Kinda tricky, don’t you think? He woulda said we were asking for trouble.


It looks like we got trouble. That’s why they sent us.

fox fight by David Kingham

Extract from The Independent, Saturday 19th June 2010

The recent scare about a fox attacking two baby girls in Hackney, east London, has brought back memories for a certain former Labour councillor who had to deal with a similar problem.

A lady arrived at his surgery complaining about a fox family that was creating an upsetting amount of noise and mess. The councillor asked the lady what she wanted to be done about them. She said she wanted them removed from the neighbourhood, but he pointed out that this would only lead to them creating a nuisance somewhere else, a point she accepted.

He then suggested gassing them instead. She thought this was going a bit far, but agreed that it would certainly solve the problem. It was only later that the unfortunate councillor learnt that they had, in fact, been discussing a human family called Fox.

So far today we have had a house energy efficiency assessment (so we can get a sticker just like our fridge), we have pottered in the garden, we have made an apple pie and a chocolate and vannilla cheescake.  We have sipped coffee and listened to the crickets.  It’s all so stressful 🙂

Pitagora relaxing by zaser

When Jonathan Ross began to place a plastic musical instrument into a liquidiser I imagined millions of viewers across the country approving.  At that moment I had to leave wondering if there were other things to be doing.  So I stepped outside and cleared a shirt sized hole in the washing line.  I armed myself with a full wine class and a thick hoodie and I sat down to watch the moon set.  I would pay a double TV licence for this.

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