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It was hard to say no when she wanted a bunny rabbit. She wanted it for so long.  I carefully explained that having a pet is a big responsibility and a bit of work is involved.  Yes, yes, she knew. She still wanted a bunny.  Eventually she realised that I needed a bit of convincing and recruited the whole family to keep on at me that we really should get a bunny. I tried again to explain that it would need looked after; the nice jobs like feeding and brushing, and the less nice jobs like cleaning out the hutch and picking up little rabbit poos.  Once she got everyone pleading along with her, I gave in. We now have a rabbit.

His name is Thumper.  I wanted to call him stew and sometimes I remind him of this with a whisper from the other side of the room. I know his comically oversized ears can hear me.

For most of the time it has all been joy and everyone has helped look after Thumper.  It is a lot of fun for us all to have him as a new member of the household.  So, has she embraced looking after a pet?  Yes, but yesterday I had to sit her down and remind her about the responsibilities.  Remind her that it is not all joy and sometimes there can be frustrations with pets and the pets cannot be blamed.  This all came out when Thumper bit through her laptop cable that she uses for work. I reminded my wife that she really wanted a bunny and promised to look after it. I explained that we have to keep things out of his way and he is only following his instincts. I also pointed out that we should be grateful that he chewed through the low voltage and not the other, high voltage, end of the cable.

Here is a picture of Thumper the laptop slayer.

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I believe him to be a breed called the Dutch.  A few days ago I told him this in case he didn’t know.  I told him he was gentle and easy going and that I read it on the internet, including, “To sum up, the Dutch is a very versatile breed that is used for showing, pets, and even meat.”  Later that evening he hopped over to me in the living room, sniffed me on the leg, then bit me.  He then calmly hopped away as if he had much more important things to do.  After I yelped, I laughed.  I  like his style and I think me and Thumper are going to get along just fine.

A long time ago I was alone in the mountains, at least I thought I was. I strolled down and around a slope and stopped in my tracks. Perched on a rock was a Raven. A massive Raven so black it seemed like a hole in the world. It turned and looked at me unsurprised. The Raven knew I was coming and knew we would meet even if I didn’t know it. The look it gave me was that of irritation, and if I could hear its thoughts I imagine it muttered and sighed, “human” while rolling its eyes. Can ravens roll their eyes? Then it decided to unfold its three foot wingspan and lift off so gracefully it looked like it was swimming into the air.

I miss the mountains. I haven’t been there in a while. I also miss the calls of the ravens. The coarse language that fills the air and echoes against granite. Part of the joy of the wild places is to see the wild blackness that is a Raven. A very long time ago they were once common and then got pushed to the edges of the land, living in the places humans rarely went. Then, some years ago, they began to return. A bird that fills a similar ecological niche, the Red Kite, was in a worse position. The Red Kite got pushed to the edges then over into extinction in the UK. The Red Kite is back, with a little help from humans. The Ravens have been slowly returning on their own.

We took a short glamping (camping in a glamping pod) trip to Rathin island with the sea at our doorstep. It was not long after setting foot on the island that I was thinking about Red Kites as a huge raptor flew around our heads. For a brief moment I did think it was a Red Kite due to its size and careless attitude it took flying so close to humans. I was wrong, it was a buzzard and we would see it a few more times during our stay. It turns out that wildlife lives more obviously on Rathlin. We saw birds, lots of birds, and seals. We even saw a hare. Although, the hare was in the grim situation of being eaten by a gull after falling off a sea cliff.

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Returning home we found more wildlife. I walked over to the hens and I knew straight away that something was wrong. They were making their alarm calls and all bunched up in a corner with the rooster on the front line, standing proud, standing guard. Over the edge of a beech tree root a dark head, with a liquid black intelligent eye, looked directly at me and then ducked down out of sight. There was an injured crow in the chicken run, but what kind of crow?

I caught the crow and knew straight away that it was not a rook. Rooks are the most common crow we usually see, and make up most of the crows that sometimes fly in huge flocks returning to rookeries at dusk. It was too big for a rook and did not have the bit on its beak that looks like bone not covered by skin nor feather. It was a big bird. It could be a carrion crow or……… a Raven.

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My opinion kept oscillating between these options until I settled on a Raven. Too big for a Carrion and smaller than the Raven I encountered up close in the Mourne Mountains. A young Raven? It was black. Heavy black beak with deep black eyes. Black claws with black nails. Reinforcing my opinion that it was a young Raven; it had the beginnings of the rainbow sheen of oil on water. Then it would move in the light and return to inky black.

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The Raven?

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An image from ‘The Raven: A Natural History in Britain and Ireland’ by Derek Ratcliffe

I fed it wet cat food then took it to the vet. They don’t seem to get a lot of Ravens. It’s size and strangeness caused a bit of excitement amongst the veterinary staff; lots of Game of Thrones references. The vet diagnosed a broken wing and thought it had a reasonable chance of recovery. After treatment it would be handed over to a wildlife rehabilitation charity, then back to the wild.

Was it a really a Raven? In flight the Raven has large diamond shaped pointed tail feather and a Carrion crow has a tail feather with a straighter edge. Of course I never got to see it in flight. After leaving the vet I kept a more open mind and an open eye looking for crows. The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon kicked in swiftly. Only a mile from our home I spotted a overly large crow gliding down to some tree tops. As it closed in it flattened out and pulled out all its air breaks, its silhouette terminating in a large diamond shaped tail.

It’s hard to describe the busy nature of life with three little people to look after.  After a long day at school I arrived home just after the lovely Sharon; also just home from a long day at school.  We hit the ground running; the dinner needed made, the little man’s homework needed to be supervised, the little lady demanded that I listened to the debrief of her nursery school day, and the littlest man simply demanded my attention with duplo. The lovely Sharon and I juggled these tasks with no time to ask each other how our days had been.  As if to demonstrate how our priorities and perspective on life has shifted; it was only about half an hour later that the lovely Sharon remembered to mention, “Oh, yeah, I forgot to say that our school was on fire today.  We were evacuated and the fire brigade had to put it out.” At that point somebody screamed.  It might have been a duplo block that wouldn’t fit, a spelling written back to front, or someone needing to go to the toilet.  I can’t recall the details, but that was the end of the small talk.

The lovely Sharon took the little people out and about, and I spent the whole day in the bathroom; the smell was awful.  It all began with an ominous leak on the floor.  Over the space of just a couple of days a small puddle had escalated into a plumbing problem. It should have all been relatively straightforward; I purchased a few new washers and settled into the bathroom with a selection of spanners, wrenches, and towels.  A few hours later I was perplexed and close to throwing the towel….onto the wet bathroom floor.  Then it dawned on me; whoever had drilled the holes in the toilet bowl had bad eyesight, or just didn’t care. Once I realised this I tried a little creative thinking (and grinder to ensure a certain metal bracket actually fitted). The whole toilet and flush was working perfectly and not dripping.  Job done.

A few weeks later a little drip appeared.  Then the drip increased until we had to introduce the flush bucket. The flush bucket is a simple plumbing solution involving a bucket filled and kept in the bath, which is then used to flush the toilet. It was a temporary measure while I waited for the opportunity to tackle the problem properly.

It only took a few days before the worst happened.  It was so sudden and unexpected that it shocked me.  We were at a children’s party, everyone was having fun and there was no context at all to the lovely Sharon’s comment. She turned to me and said, “Do we need to get a plumber?”   In hindsight I genuinely think she was trying to be helpful.  I was gutted. My quiet inner voice held back from saying that I thought she looked big in that dress, even though she didn’t.  Instead I remained stoic and shrugged and said that I thought I should have another look at it first.

On Saint Patrick’s day I was off work and everyone else was at school.  I stepped out into the cool spring air and let my eyes rest on Slemish, the very mountain the Saint Patrick shepherded on.  Then, I went back into the cottage and ripped the toilet apart.  I put it all back together with generous amounts of silicone sealant and it hasn’t leaked yet.

No time for this, no time for that. Time spent, time valued. Time flies, then it is time for change; time for spring.  It’s fair to say that the three little ones are my time now. Time playing lego, time feeding, time talking and answering questions. Time holding hands and learning to walk.

 

I took a little time out to order up some raspberry plants with the intention of investing some time in summer and autumn raspberries.  Ideally they should be planted, according to the literature, in November.  There was a day that I set aside for just such a task.  Then I was sick on that day and the window passed. The raspberry canes have been stored in damp soil in the greenhouse and I intend to plant them out soon.  Yet things happen. Fences get blown down in storms, chicken coop roofs get blown off and scattered around the garden.  These things need mended and fixed.

 

The first signs of spring are here and this is inspiring me to make time for growth. The snowdrops are out and the daffodils are beginning to flower.  One hive of bees is all that has survived from last year.  Their stores are desperately low.  They seem to be breaking their winter huddle every so often to feed on the fondant I left them.  If they hang on then the willow and dandelion will be out soon.  Hang on.

 
It’s at times like these that I turn to Monty.  I’m re-watching Monty Don’s Fork to Fork and getting inspired. No; I’m getting reminded that summer does actually happen if we choose to believe that it will. So, I will plant out those raspberries.  I will turn over the soil, and I will get those potatoes ready for chitting. I will make time for these things. Why?…  The littlest man may be only learning to walk now, but in time, I hope he will be walking through the garden eating all the raspberries with his brother and sister, and me only half-heartedly complaining that they are spending more time eating than picking.

Wheelbarrows of compost need to be shovelled from one area to another.  The soft fruits need mulched.  The apple/pear/plum trees need manured.  The strawberry bed needs weeded and fed.  It is the springing time and things must be done to prepare for the summer.  If we are to reap the rewards of a harvest we must put in the work now.  Over the years we have often missed opportunities.  We didn’t start our peas or beans in time.  We didn’t sow the tomato seeds properly, with warmth to germinate them.  We didn’t mulch the raspberries/blackcurrants/gooseberries. To be fair, a few years ago I didn’t know what mulching was.  Now I watch Gardener’s World.

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Can I feel less old if I watch Gardener’s World on iPlayer and flick through everything that isn’t Monty Don.  I’m not interested at all when the colourful flowers are on display, or when it is explaining the benefits of winter colours.  I want to know the tips and tricks that I need to apply right now.  I have five hungry mouths to feed (including my own) and I need to know that raspberry roots are shallow, that apples must not be pruned every year, and that I need to put buckets on my rhubarb to ensure sweet stalks in two or three weeks time.  Monty will tell me all these things.

So far this springing time:

  • Three bags of potatoes have been planted (one bag still to go).
  • Tomato seeds have been sown and are sitting on a sunny window ledge indoors.
  • Onions have been planted.
  • Peas and beans have been sown in trays in the greenhouse.
  • Some of the raspberries have been mulched.
  • Some of the apple trees have been fed.

And…

  • Wheelbarrows of compost have been shuffled about the garden.

 

So much has been ticked off the mental list.  This is the joy of Spring.  Things to do, things to be done.  I could list all the things that need to be done but I’m not really sure what they are.  Playing in the garden with the little people lets me notice more.  Watching Monty reveals even more.  It all sounds so busy.  And it is.  And it isn’t.  It does feel like a balancing act at times.  At other times I find myself with a minute or two to stand and ponder, then spy a bucket out of the corner of my eye; a bucket full of rotted collections from the guttering (collected on one of the finer days of winter). Then another bucket filled with rotted down weeds the lovely Sharon collected, before she forgot about it as she ran after one of the little people, then decided it was time to go inside.  These buckets added to the growing heap of matter piling up on the main vegetable patch. This was a bonus to the main thought when I spied the buckets.  The now empty buckets were turned upside down on the shooting rhubarb and weighed down with bricks from the other corners of the garden.  It didn’t feel like something that needed to be done; it felt like something that would make a fine rhubarb tart in a few weeks time; something Monty would want me to do.

Over half way on the long commute from the country to the town I got the call, “Come back. I don’t want to be on my own.” When a pregnant woman commands, you obey by reflex. I spun the car around and rushed back.  Past experience (the little man) has taught me that these things can happen very slowly and rushing is futile.  Then another past experience(the little lady) has taught me not to drag my feet and dither, these things can happen fast and catch you out. Experience has taught me nothing.

Back at the cottage the lovely Sharon was convinced that things had begun and a new soul would arrive any time between soon to several days…….

We went for a walk.  It was a slow walk near shops, supermarkets, civilisation and the closeness of hospital care.  We walked and talked and waited. Later we picked up the little people and headed back home to try and pretend everything was normal.

In the morning nothing happened and we pretended again. The usual Saturday pancakes, the usual Saturday lunch.  We went walking again, this time beside the river to try and let it wash away our worry. I remember the water was high and chaotic: a torrent in full force after weeks of building volume saturating everything around it. I remember it that it felt like my anxiety. It didn’t sit with me like a metaphor. Too real. Too raw.

After the walk I dropped the lovely Sharon off at the hospital and drove off with the little people leaving her alone.  That was difficult.

Granny and Granda arrived to look after the little people and I returned to the hospital to join the waiting.  We waited and waited until I had to leave the ward.  They gave me a blanket to sleep in the waiting room.  The  room was full of light and noise, and cold.  Outside in the night was dark and much colder.  I choose my down sleeping bag in the frozen car, until the lovely Sharon’s fancy motion detector car alarm threw me out and back to the waiting room.  Another expectant father slept beside me with his portable radio and his snoring.   I few hours later I fell asleep for a half hour until my phone rang: the pain had begun.

So much pain.  Nobody can ever know someone else’s pain. We can pretend to sympathise and empathise but it is nothing and futile. I can’t begin to understand as I have never experienced it.

I cried when I heard his first cry. His was a reflex of breath and a gasp at the air, a grasp at the life around him. Mine was a reflex of my anxiety and joy bursting in an uncontrollable way. It caught me by surprise but was glad to feel it. I cut the cord and the cutting merged old memories with new ones.

Two days later we were all home and we were a family again; a bigger one. I honestly can’t remember what we did for those few days at home. I guess we reminded ourselves how to look after a tiny baby. We didn’t venture very far as it felt like our whole world was there at home with the little people and the new, littlest, man.

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I threw my suit and a roll of duck tape in the back of my brother in law’s car, then we drove off in search of his new bees.  It must have been half five when we found the beekeeper and his bees, “Sure you’re too early. The girls will not be in for the night yet.”  A short stroll through a narrow wooden gate confirmed that the ‘girls’ had no intentions of resting yet.  As we squeezed back through the gate in the hedge the beekeeper told us he was showing his grandson the bees last week.  “After we went through the gate I old him to close the gate to keep the bees in.” His mischievous chuckling revealed this man’s character and we knew we were in for some stories.

The beekeeper dragged three old high backed chairs in front of the kitchen range and we settled in to wait for the bees to think about flying home for the evening.  Around us sat food buckets filled with freshly harvested honey and a neat tower of empty supers; boxes filled with the honeycomb that was just emptied of honey. A big kettle of water perched continuously ready for tea on the range and we settled down for some stories.  “My father gave me my first hive at the age of seven.”  This meant that this man was a beekeeper of more than eighty years experience.  Yet, with all this experience he admitted more than once that he was still learning.  He shared many stories as we waited for the evening to cool down.  My brother in law says I interrogated him with questions.  I couldn’t help myself; as he was keen to share, I was keen to learn.  I noted that some of his advice contradicted itself from time to time.  Maybe some of it he was certain as fact long ago but recently the bees changed his mind.  They say if you ask two beekeepers the same question you’ll get three different answers.  On the topic of hive inspections, he was convinced that it set the bees back a bit and wasn’t good at all.  I feel the same but do know of an alternative to prevent a swarm without a weekly inspection.  I pushed him further.  For the last five years he has settled on a technique that he feels is the right one.  He says that March is the toughest month for the bees, and if they make it through in good shape he takes out a couple of frames of bees, including the queen, and makes up a nucleus hive in April.  This nucleus if taken to another site at least three miles away and looked after with feeding.  Then the original hive is left to raise a new queen with little risk of swarming.

After the passing of an unknown amount of time we decided get the bees.  We took a drive to one of his sites down winding roads and past the run-down stones of old farms.  We found the first hive hidden in an old farm yard beside forlorn looking tractor machinery.  The hive was carefully sealed up, covered with an old bedsheet, then strapped down in the back of the car.

On the way back to the beekeeper’s cottage the stories kept coming.  Beekeeping, histories of old farm cottages, and the local history of the Six Mile Valley.  Driving around with bees brought back a story.  He told us not to worry if a few bees get out into the car while on the move as he believed they would not sting in such a predicament.  Once long ago, several hundred bees got out when he failed to seal the hive properly.  He kept driving with them all flying around the inside of the car.  Turning a corner he found a police checkpoint ahead of him and a policeman with his hand held high.  As he slowed down he saw the look on the policeman’s face quickly change and his arm suddenly wave him on franticly.

We arrived back at the beekeeper’s cottage to carefully seal up and wrap the second hive.  This time the back seats went down to accommodate the second hive.  We said our thanks, paid him for the hives* and listened to a few more stories before heading back home.  As we drove back we fell silent for a moment when some of the quiet buzzing in the back got louder and a single bee flew up beside us in the front seats.  We looked at the bee, we looked at each other, we laughed.

*The wisdom was free.

It is a beautiful thing to wander into the garden first thing in the morning. In this wonderful summer heat it is a joy to have a quick look for ripe strawberries and raspberries to nibble and listen to the birds. Unfortunately I have some competition. The little man has now taken it upon himself to wander into the vegetable patch and pick the fruit. The raspberries are his favourite. There are two problems here. The first problem is that he must be watched like a hawk to ensure he does not eat things he should not. I am so glad I got rid of the yew tree so long ago. The other problem is that he picks ripe and unripe alike. The ripe ones he eats and makes approving noises about. The unripe ones he declares “needs more red”, and tosses them over his shoulder in a trail of destruction.

Then there is the mythological squirrel. Many moons ago our best plum tree was stripped in one afternoon and I surmised, with no evidence other than intuitive deduction, that it was squirrels. The lovely Sharon thought I was crazy and declared that the only squirrels around the cottage are the ones running around inside my head. Running around eating plums I suppose.

A few months ago we were teasing out a conversation from the little man trying to reinforce his animal recognition. We were running through the animals he saw that day; a wee spider, the sheeps (his own mis-plural) in the field, the chickens; the buzzy bees. I tried to tell him they were bumble bees but we just got into an argument were he said, “NO, BUZZY bees!” Then I said, “no, bumble bees.”

“NO, BUZZY bees!”
“no, bumble bees.”
“NO, BUZZY bees!”
“no, bumble bees.”
“NO, BUZZY bees!”
“no, bumble bees.”
“NO, BUZZY bees!”
“Ok, buzzy bees.”

Then in the role call of animals seen that day he dropped in, “…….and a squirrel.” When pressed further on this matter he simply stated, in a normal matter of fact way, “yes, a grey squirrel in the garden.” The lovely Sharon refused to believe him, and assumed it was just his imagination. The geek in me pointed out that we have never told him about the difference between red and grey squirrels, and most of the squirrels in his books are the classic red.

A week or two ago I could not help but chuckle when I spotted a grey squirrel run down the lane. I told the lovely doubting Sharon but she still had an expression of mixed belief, and the expression betrayed that she was beginning to believe, but still wondered if it was just one of the squirrels escaping from my mind.

Today the lovely Sharon joined us. She called me in to the kitchen with excited whispered shouts. “Look! Look!” And there he was sitting on the wall in the vegetable garden calmly listening to the birds and feeling the early morning sun as he munched a nice bright red strawberry.

fire!

Monday is shaping up to be a stormy day.  The weather people are viewing it as a January storm in May.  With leaves on the trees some of them may feel more of a force than if they were bare in January.  Put away the garden furniture and batten down the hatches.

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

Part of ‘the man watching’ by Rainer Maria Rilke

Ondine

If you want to see something a little different then pop down to extravision and ask them for Ondine.

It is not the usual mainstream film, it is a lovely little story that is a delight to watch. It’s a sort of fairy tale, sort of.

The film itself is very well put together, very moody with its overcast irish landscape and its ‘right, so’ charachter.

For the music alone (beautiful and well timed) it is worth the watch.  This is the film for lighting the fire and filling a glass of wine  on a Friday night.

cat vs humans

unknown source via interesting things

via batman comic generator

…A near-Earth object hurtled past us on Wednesday, just two days after its discovery was announced….

bet then

…If the object had been on a collision course with Earth, it wouldn’t have done any damage anyway…

source

Read the whole story by clicking here.


I want to be in the dark places.

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Originally uploaded by John602




50 Years of Space Exploration

Originally uploaded by Adam Crowe

This has to be a poster for the classroom.

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