October 2010

Tonight we found ourselves in the dark and in a place we did not know. We went for a Halloween walk to clear our heads from all the ongoing projects that seem to be taking more time than expected at the cottage.  We walked in a forest we have never been in, itself a crime as it is so close to us.  As we had no map, nor time to research the layout and routes.  We intended to walk for a while and then turn back. Then, after half an hour we found an old couple walking their dogs.  We chatted to them and they told us some of the routes and included the fact that our current path would return us to the car park.  Another an hour or so later we found our selves safely back at the car park, the wrong car park.  Darkness was upon us and the air around us was quite cold.  The little man was oblivious; he was still sleeping off his last feed and was snuggled into my chest on his carrier.  The lovely Sharon and I were unanimous; construction is the reverse of destruction. We had to reverse our route.  The darkness did not scare us, we loved it (and technically we knew tomorrow night is the proper Halloween).  The cold did not worry us, we would be moving fast.   The fast pace ensured we would work up an appetite and be home in good time to carve our turnips.

Three turnips/pumkins to scare away the ghouls this year.  The third one is for the little man and I carved it to resemble him a little.  Maybe you can tell which one?

I am friendly, no really I am by Vicki & Chuck Rogers

Today we will be carving our turnips.  Although, we also have a pumpkin at the personal request of the lovely Sharon.  She claimed it would be safer for her to carve.  As calmly and as convincingly as I could I said, “really, are you sure?”  For all of you who know her and are worried; worry not.  Even though it is a pumpkin she will be supervised.



Tonight we made a little radiator yoghurt.  It seems too simple to make, too good to be true.  A pan, whisk, thermometer and kilner jars need to be scalded with boiled water.  Then a litre of whole milk is heated to 46 degrees and a big dollop of live yoghurt is added.  The sealed jars are then placed on a radiator and covered with something to keep them warm.  As our heating is off overnight, ours are covered with a thick fleece jacket.  In the morning we should have a very fresh yoghurt.  Nice.

A few days ago the lovely Sharon and I found ourselves relaxing with the little man in a cafe in town.  We sat back and read the papers and sipped coffee as our lunch digested.  Then the grandparents arrived and took the little man off our hands leaving us with nothing to coo over.  Half an hour later we found ourselves wandering around and I could not shake the feeling that something was missing.  Of course I knew we were missing the little man but the feeling was there like mobile phone anxiety (when you forgot your mobile phone and it feels that you and the world cannot cope together).  Then I remembered that………………………….. I had left my book in the pram.

Just kidding, honest.

So far today we have thought about making a pile of piccalilli.  We have thought about it while sipping coffee,  walking around the garden and listening to the rooks.  Maybe we will get round to doing it, maybe not.  On caturday, that’s how we roll.

autumn cat by Gatiuss

The lovely Sharon visited my school today and she brought with her the little man.  The visit went pretty much as expected.  People ‘ohhhh-ed’ and ‘ahhhhh-ed’ at his overwhelming cuteness and I displayed my fair amount of proud father-ness.  The most interesting aspect of the visit was the lovely Sharon’s surprise at the fire alarm.  Half way through the VIP visit the school fire alarm went off and everybody got up and began to make their way to the fire exits.  At this point the lovely Sharon looked totally perplexed and repeatedly asked, “what’s going on?”  It turns out the she was not surprised at the alarm but at our reaction to it.  I guess this is one of the many strange differences between grammar schools and secondary schools.  For the lovely Sharon a fire alarm is something that you simply don’t get alarmed about until someone runs through the building shouting, “It’s REAL, It’s REAL, run for your lives.”  For many hours after the visit she randomly repeated to me, “I really can’t believe that you all got up?”

This morning I turned my window wipers on and they grinded over frozen ice.  Through the night some hail had fallen and crusted the car.  What is sad is that it surprised me more that I did not hear it fall than the fact that it was cold enough.  This comforted me a little as it meant that somewhere between winding, nappy changing and lucid unconsciousness on the rocking chair; I must have slept a little.  It is also warming that the chair was bought by my mother for my father, and here I am with my own son many decades later.

Once the ice was off, I rolled my way to work in air that was a chilly two degrees.  I already knew it was a cold night from hours earlier when our little egg shaped night light turned from a pale amber to deep blue and displayed a little sad expression on its digital face.

Later, after a long day of never finding enough time to actually do the things that needed to be done, I arrived home to a near full moon rising and two hugh skeins of geese tearing accross the sky.  One heading west and one heading east, although I am not sure why they were heading east?  North america to scotland maybe?

full moon by Isihoff

The moon that is nearly here is  the Blood moon, or Hunter’s moon.  A couple of thousand years ago I would be out tonight.  Out with the lads.  There would be no banter or Football blabber (praise the Lord!).  Instead, we would be deathly silent and gestures would be subtle and speak hidden words to the pack.  The winter is coming and we must eat.  In later years the excess livestock on the farm would have been slaughtered and devoured and hung and stored, and devoured again.  Tonight we eat the left over spaghetti Bolognese from last night and the only blood is a glass of wine.  It is still the same moon and we still stand and stare.  It is the Blood moon, just don’t tell the chickens.

We are both tired and sleep deprived.  I  must make the daily slog to work with very little real sleep. The lovely Sharon’s trips away from the cottage seem to be operations in logistics and deft timings.  And so, under these conditions it is understandable if we make mistakes.  It may not have been a mistake, it may have been a brilliant decision.  This evening we opened the door to the coop and let the chickens roam free.  The rash decision making did not end there.  With the scissors in hand and ready we decided not to clip their wings.  Wing clipping is needed in a confined coop with an open roof.  However, with the complete freedom of a large garden they need their flight bursts to have a chance of evading the sly Fox.

October moon rising over the coop

As the October sun winds its way down its path and the cold moon rises, I worry.  Will the little man let us sleep tonight?  Will the chickens recoup (or recoop?) themselves?  Is Mr Fox (or Mrs Fox) sitting by the hedge waiting to pounce?  Will the repeated treatment of my own urine around the garden keep the Foxes in fear and away?  Did I really need to tell you that last bit, was it really necessary?  So many worrisome questions.

Thursday night is a special night in our house at this time of year, it is the night of Autumnwatch.  We put extra logs in the stove, put up our feet and make sure the little man has been fed in time for our dose of mother nature.

This week we found out that the conker trees are dying and may face extinction!  Northern Ireland seems to be a bit away from this wave of horse chestnut death for the moment but the Atlantic weather buffer we hate love so much might not protect us for long.

On a cheerier note, the show revealed a new method for tracking bird migration that I can only describe as elegant.  Elegant is a phrase not to be used lightly in science but I think it is warranted here.

Sunrise on the Platte River during crane migration by jc-pics

Bird migration methods range from the classically widely used ringing to the use of gps navigation.  I imagine the use of gps navigation has the advantage of being accurate and giving details of the bird’s path.  However, gps is horrific in terms of weight and power consumption and therfore totally impractical.  The latest device is beautiful in its simplicity and yet is powerful in its ingenuity and accuracy, it is elegant.

The method if geolocation by light.  A sensor is placed on a bird that records the light levels every few minutes and records it.  It also has its own accurate clock and these two things combined seem to give it the ability to record the bird’s position on a day to within 50 miles.  And it consumes very little power.


The principal is that if you had your own clock with you as you voyaged around the planet, and if it could never be adjusted, you would find that the sunset and sunrise times, and length of day, would always seem to be not quite right compared to your home.  If your home was position A and you found yourself in position B then your clock would be telling you that sunset was very late,  hours late.

If your home was position A and you found yourself in position C then your clock would be telling you that the days were far too short and the nights much too long.

Someone somewhere had the revelation that this blindingly simple concept could be used to track bird migration. And, so the story is that it is we are on the crest of a new wave of research on the amazing long distance voyages across the planet.

On a more local view-point, Autumnwatch should be on for a couple of more weeks and on Thursday evening of this week it will be in Northern Ireland.  We can’t wait!

When I was just a lad (17 ish) I found a book that began a little dream.  The book was, “Ants, Bees and Wasps” by Lubbock.  This book is sitting in front of me now and makes me think that they don’t build books like they used to.  It was printed in 1888 and is still tidy (ish).

The dream was to keep bees.  Not necessarily for the honey, but mainly for the fun of it.  To be honest it was actually the ants that fascinated me most and it did spark a long running interest in hymenoptera in general.  This is a little too geeky, and it gets a little geekier at the very end of the post.

Back to the bees.  A couple of months ago the lovely Sharon and I both decided that with our move we would have the space to keep bees without concerning neighbors or our own comfort.  After spending many weeks researching I finally ordered the hives.  The frames, smoker, tools and our beehive suits will have to be sorted out soon as well.  The bees themselves will have to wait until next year I think.  I ordered two beautiful hives from nicholas at peak-hives.  They will take a little while to build but I think the quality and the use of local cedar will make it well worth the wait.


As part of my research I discovered many interesting blogs on beekeeping.  So far this one is my favourite.  However, it did have a post that disappointed me.  A post about bees in Northern Ireland got me excited for a few brief seconds before I realised that we had been really let down by the Belfast Telegraph:

I even asked my students today if they could spot the mistake and several of them spotted it.  This is not due to our education system as things like bees and local wildlife knowledge are simply not on the curriculum.  It is an aspect of their own education from themselves and their parents.  This is a beautiful and heart warming thing.

If you did not spot it; that’s a Bumble Bee and not a Honey Bee.  You won’t get honey from that fella. Actually it’s more likely to be a girl.

I can’t handleit!

A new feed to read…..Thanks to alaninbelfast for finding and sharing canalways.  It seems to be something different nicely done.

The good agreeable life?

There were things to be done tonight, a timetable of its own had to be adhered to and that timetable was dictated by the schedule of yeast.  The specific gravity of a very large tub of bubbling liquid was ready.  Forty two bottles had to be sterilised then syphon filled with brew.  Small amounts of sugars were added to each bottle to ensure the yeast kicks in again when they were capped.  This will hopefully give them there fizz after a few weeks of secondary fermentation.

This combined with a kitchen in a dusty mess (builders making holes) and the fact that pumpkin soup had to be made tonight (they were looking like they might not last till Halloween (and we don’t know why)), makes a very busy night (and a very long sentence).

The fields have been filling with October mist for hours now. Tonight there does not seem to be time to saunter in them.

P.S. did I mention all the nappy changes as well?


Today’s core belief is that nature is in the past.

Richard Louv

unknown source

At 4:30 am I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed looking out at cygnus setting.  The sky was cold black and cloudless and the great bowl of stars were spinning imperceptibly slowly.  On my knee was the little man as I held his little head and rubbed, and patted, his little back.   He tilted his head and looked out the window, a thing he seems to do a lot.  His eyes widened as he looked at the constellations drifting by, his expression seemed to portray him struggling to comprehend it all.  Then he turned to look up at me and his expression changed to wonder.

stellarium ~4:30am

A nice thought.  The reality is that as he stared out the window his thoughts were more likely to be, “ahhhhhh, ahhhhhhh, ahhhhhhhhggggrrrr” then, BUUUUURRRP, and he turned to look up at me and thought, “What? What are you looking at?”

unknown source

The change in the season is really in full swing.  The air today was a welcome cool crisp sunny day.  This is the season for walks through piles of leaves and the dusting off of wooly hats.  The lovely Sharon and I (and the little man) were all relaxing in the garden today.  We were sipping strong coffee and letting the October sun warm our faces (the little man had no coffee) when our ears perked up at the sound of the Gabriel Hounds.  We jumped up to try and find them in the sky, to catch a glimpse and watch and say hello.  We caught sight of them and plotted their course in our minds eye.  A skein of Brent geese making their way down to Strangford for the winter.

brent geese by mikebaird

It is said that in many years gone by, in Ireland,   people used to believe that the cries between flocks of geese were actually made by ghostly hounds called Gabriel Hounds with human heads who flew high in the air.

On a slightly related topic; I am reading Bernd Heinrich’s latest book.  I love his writing and looked forward to getting it for a while now.  In it he mentions his pet geese having a strange compulsion near motorised agricultural vehicles.  They would follow the vehicle as much as they could.  The louder the engine the greater their compulsion.  One of them used to walk with him between himself and the lawn mower as he cut the lawn.  He suspected the noise had a link to the noise of a flock migrating and some of them could simply not resist following.

We too feel the urge to follow.  To follow with the flow of the seasons, to follow this pulse.  We feel the need prepare to gather together, to stock up wood for the embers that will hold back the winter cold.

the man

some of his work

I spent most of my life being unmoved by most poetry.  I am still unmoved by most poetry but I am moved by Rilke.

A Walk

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

Rainer Maria Rilke

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