shewhomust: (mamoulian)

  • Poking around the internet, looking for something else, I found this article about the decline in puffin numbers in Iceland. It dates back to 2013, and blames the mackerel, heading north on the warmer waters and eating the zooplankton which would otherwise feed the sand eels (ans eating the odd sand eel, too). The evidence is circumstantial, but persuasive. In passing, it suggests that the technique of catching puffins in flight using a net on a pole is actually less damaging to the puffin population than the previous method of catching them from the burrows: "Pole netting targets the tremendous wheels of flying puffins that form just off the colony cliffs. Thousands of birds spend hours flying in an arc out to sea, then banking and coming back low over the cliffs. The birds that do this are mostly adolescents. They have free time, and they spend it endlessly reconnoitering the cliffs, trying to learn what it takes to find a burrow and a mate." Of course: birds that spend their time flying round aimlessly in circles, what could they be but adolescents?

  • I described the practice of pole netting in a post last year about a television programme, also about the decline in seabird numbers, presented by Adam Nicholson. I am now reading his new book, The Seabird's Cry and hoping for more up to date information. I've barely started it, and have only just reached the chapter about puffins, but I loved this hint of how they spend their winters: "Winter puffins, dressed in grey, float in silence, picking at fish and plankton alone on the surface of the sea." Something very chilly about that wording.

  • And one puffin-free item: Harry Potter, the Durham connection. I am mildly shocked at the idea that Durham University is offering a Harry Potter module as part of its English degree: the course, as described, sounds like a very good way to teach civics to schoolchildren, but not the material for undergraduates on - oh, wait, can I even assume that it's a literature degree? Better stop here and go to bed.
shewhomust: (puffin)
So that was the end of our stay on Lindisfarne. Memo to self: a half-week in a holiday cottage is shorter than a full week than you would believe possible. Also, much as I enjoyed our trip to Scotland last year, I do love spending time on Lindisfarne. But now it was time to go home. We could do something fun on the way home, though, couldn't we? [personal profile] durham_rambler had a request for what we might do. And it began like this:

Stairway to Heaven

More pictures under the cut )
shewhomust: (puffin)
It was 2013 when we first visited the Amble Puffin Festival: time to return. The Festival stays much the same from year to year, but Amble has seen some changes: the town itself is still slightly down-at-heel, scruffier than its smart neighbour Alnmouth, but there is gentrification afoot at the harbour:

Coble Quay

This smart new development is Coble Quay (25 apartments, the Fat Mermaid deli and bistro and a "Private - Residents Only" sign): I wonder if it will still look as smart when it is no longer new? There's a shed which is a seafood centre, which is in the process of setting up a lobster hatchery, and in its shade a little cluster of shops in what look like a row of bathing huts, selling the sort of things people buy at the seaside - no, not buckets and spades, not these days, now is is all handmade cosmetics and seaglass jewellery, and some rather nice prints, drawings of seabirds printed on old maps. When we had checked out these bijou boutiques, we crossed to the other side of the harbour, and spent the rest of the morning at the car boot sale, which is unchanged, all glittering beads and odds and ends of china, cheap DVDs and discarded toys. We bought a book each, and enjoyed the view of the harbour at low tide:

Low tide

Note the heron, which seemed to be coexisting amicably with some eider ducks. Note also how hazy it is. It's even clearer if you look across the river to Warkworth Castle:

Castle in the mist

This wasn't entirely unexpected - in fact it was part of my plan: if the weather is too hot, head for the coast, where a sea fret is quite likely to cool things down. Which worked very well for us in the morning, enough sunshine, but not too much. Towards the end of lunch (we started out at the Fat Mermaid, which was pleasant enough, but felt the pull of Spurreli's, and headed there for ice cream) the sky began to cloud over, and as soon as we set off to explore the town, it started to rain on us, quite heavily. So we didn't stay for the naming of the new lifeboat, but headed for home. The rain stopped as we reached the car, of course, and the drive home was even quite bright, at times, but just as we turned off the main road there was a loud crash, and then another, and hailstones the size of sugar lumps started bouncing off the car. A couple of hundred yards further on, it turned to torrential rain, and the thunderstorm which had been forecast - and the rain has been stopping and starting ever since.

Bonus seaside poem: I'm not a big dan of John Cooper Clarke, but the collaborative process seems to suit him. I think this came out rather well.
shewhomust: (puffin)
I didn't mean to spend the afternoon looking at pictures of puffins: I do have work to do.

But [ profile] durham_rambler showed me a picture in today's Guardian, so I went looking for it to see if I could share it here. Not as easy as I expected. Here's the Guardian Witness feature, and here are today's photos: no puffins, but some nice pictures. I'd post the guiser Jarls queuing for their breakfast here if there were an LJ button alongside the FB, Twitter and Pinterest logos, but we are not worthy.

Oh, well. I finally tracked down my pictures archived by theme, and oh, look, there's an 'embed' option, hooray! Well, almost hooray. The code doesn't actually embed the picture, but it gives you this link:

Puffin vanity

Which in turn gives me the name of the photographer, and that allows me to find this story published in the Journal a couple of summers ago. I can't make the gallery feature work, alas, but in the meanwhile, have some piano-playing puffins:

shewhomust: (puffin)
I am, as you Bobs know, very fond of puffins. But there are lengths to which even I will not go to drag puffins into situations where they are not at home.

It is the season of the Christmas catalogues. They arrive in the post, and I leaf through them, before (almost invariably) adding them to the recycling bin. But this Amnesty Christmas card caught my eye:

Amnesty International Puffin Perch Christmas Card

At first glance, obviously, I was tempted: a puffin Christmas card, that's what I need! But wait -

The puffin is not a bird associated with Christmas. It comes to land to breed in the summer, and spends the winter mysteriously out at sea. Even without getting into discussions of whether the picture shows the bright beak of its summer plumage, those pink flowers are thrift, which does not bloom in December. Someone has gone to the trouble of adding a seasonal touch in the form of falling snow (this also has the advantage of explaining why the rocks on which the puffins are perched are streaked with white, which we would otherwise have taken for guano).

I went to the Amnesty website, looking for a copy of the picture to send my friendly neighbourhood cultural historian (to thank her for sending me a postcard - of a puffin, obviously - from Dublin) and found the additional information "Botanical plate by Pierre Joseph Redouté, the 'Raphael of flowers' and official court artist of Marie Antoinette." Wait, what? Can this possibly be correct? A cultural historian answers, by return of e-mail, no, it can't.

Despite which, Amnesty is a Good Thing, and if you saw that picture and thought "There's my Christmas cards sorted!", don't let me put you off. Here's a link to the shop.

ETA: The fabulous Gail-Nina has waved her magic wand, and the puffins are now correctly attributed to wildlife artist Lisa Hooper - and here they are on her website, with not a trace of snow to be seen - in the company of many other covetable prints.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
It's August and it's a Bank Holiday (not in the UK, admittedly, but we're all Francophiles here): we went to the beach.


Admittedly, that wasn't the original plan: we had meant to go out yesterday, but [ profile] durham_rambler spent much of the day rescuing one of our sites which had fallen over under attack from some bot in Ukraine. Going out today instead was no great hardship, but the museum we had planned to visit is closed on Mondays - so instead we went to Alnmouth.

We must have arrived when the tide was at its lowest. The beach was busy with families, and dogs, and one or two kites, but there was plenty of room for all of us. I pointed out to [ profile] durham_rambler that two of the children were wearing actual wetsuits, and their mother, a large woman in an orange swimming costume, told me: "Liodl. £12.99. We're holidaying in England this year." Good for them! We paddled in the shallows round into the mouth of the Aln, then back, and headed into the village for lunch (generously filled crab sandwiches at the Tea Cosy Tea Shop) and shopping: a nose around the At Old School Gallery, actual purchases at a shop whose name I didn't notice (I coveted David Hall*'s cormorant, and actually bought a book of his puffin pictures, because puffins!)

By the time we returned to the car, the tide had risen substantially, and the beach was a fraction of its former self. We returned via Alnwick, where Barter Books accepted the entirety of the two boxes of books we had brought: this has never happened to us before. What's more, there's a garage behind the bookshop which dealt with the amber light warning us the the oil was low, by the simple expedient of putting some oil in the engine. On the way home, we were a bit slow turning off the radio after the news, and found Geoff Ryman talking to us about Herland. That was unexpected.

All in all, a good day out. We should get out more.

*Checking his website now, I think I've admired his work before - surely I recognise that frog?
shewhomust: (puffin)
[ profile] guppiecat says: Puffins can fly in both air and water. They’re working on being able to fly through land, but the evolutionary process seems to be taking a while.

He has a photo to prove it, too!

Thanks to [ profile] desperance for pointing me to this post.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Speaking - as we were - of seabirds, that boat trip to Ailsa Craig:

The trip - in a RIB, which is a Rigid Inflatable Boat - was certainly an experience, and I'm glad to have done it. It's quite a palaver, though. The boat is open, and goes fast, so they wrap you up in generous quantities of waterproofing, as much, I suspect, against the cold as against the wet. The overtrousers were a snug enough fit that I was not entirely confident that I would be able to sit down, but I wasn't called on to put that to the test: the saddle seats carry you as much standing as sitting. This is never exactly comfortable, and the two and a half-hour trip was close to my limit (I was quite surprised how quickly after disembarking I was walking more or less normally!).

Our destination

Ailsa Craig is 18 miles out (if I've got that right) which is 40 or 50 minutes fast going each way. Outbound, particularly,we seemed to hit the waves head on, and I was reminded of riding lessons, and learning to rise to the trot. Once there, we made a leisurely circuit of the island - though just one way, and I was sitting on the 'wrong' side of the boat, so my view onshore was always obstructed (all my photographs feature a knitted hat, as worn by the lady between me and the island).


But the gannets didn't care, and soared above us in considerable numbers (though we didn't see them diving, as D. had from our cottage). The puffins were nothing like as numerous, and it feels rude to say "is that all you've got?", so I didn't like to ask whether their numbers are down here, as elsewhere, or whether the rocky island is not actually prime puffin habitat*. I did, all the same, see several puffins in flight, including one pair who did an obliging fly-past close to my side of the boat.

Puffins and gannets are clearly the A-list celebrities, and the birds our driver made much of. We also saw large numbers of guillemots (including at least one black guillemot which passed us when we had barely left Campeltown harbour), and I could hear the kittiwakes yelling 'kittiwake' from their cliffs, though I couldn't make out which of the carpet of white dots were kittiwakes and which were gannets**. Plus one or two razorbills, and a shag or so.

*The internet suggests that although there are fewer puffins than other birds, their numbers are growing.

**Blowing my photos up as far as they'll go, I can see mostly gannets!
shewhomust: (dandelion)
On the building front: the errant downpipe has been reattatched, and the insurance company notified that the cause of the damp has been corrected, and they can start repairs as soon as they are ready. Meanwhile, while the scaffolding is in place the builders are doing useful things to the back of the house, repointing, repairing window frames, repainting woodwork.

The next job will be external repairs: the wall at the end of the garden, the outhouses, the steps down to the garden. The wall has already gone. We knew it was unsound, it was further damaged in bringing scaffolding through, and when the builder tried to remove the tree growing out of the top of the wall, it became clear that the tree was in fact the only thing holding it together. Just as well we already wanted to replace it. Replacing the back steps is also we've had in mind for some time - but it will have to wait until the scaffolding is removed.

This ought to be enough excitement to satisfy anyone. I don't know why I feel that nothing much is going on here.

On the Northern noir front: I've been enjoying Shetland enough to be sorry to see it come to an end, but thought the resolution was a little weak. The scheduling did it no favours, following the emotional blockbuster of the fifth episode with a two week gap, and then a dénouement which depended on cramming quite a lot of new material into the final hour, some of which didn't add up. As usual, I'm left feeling that the books are better. And the TV version seems set on dismantling everything interesting about Jimmy Perez's personal life. Oh, well.

It tells you somrthing about Trapped that where Shetland is filmed in Shetland in the summer months, Trapped meets the Icelandic winter head on: it is set in February, so not only is the town cut off by snow, and the population 'trapped', most of the action takes place in the long winter nights. This can be dramatic, and events are often macabre, but I wouldn't call it gloomy. There's a relish to it. One confrontation in episode three, which is as far as we've got, takes place while one of the characters in skinning and gutting a reindeer.

If that's part of your definition of noir, you can add The Last Seabird Summer to the list. Adam Nicolson (whose book, Sea Room, I have quoted before) investigates the decline in sea bird numbers around the coast of Britain, which includes going to Iceland (Grimsay, in fact, the island on the Arctic Circle) where licensed hunters still pluck puffins from the air with fishing nets, and cook them in barbecue sauce. Nicolson's discomfort at this is a thing of beauty.

Nothing to do with anything else, but the Guardian has an obituary of Gillian Avery. I loved The Warden's Niece; I've read and enjoyed others of her books, but The Warden's Niece remains special.
shewhomust: (puffin)
Inevitably, I thought of [ profile] sovay when I read this:
The Sound of Shiant is also known as Sruth na Fear Gorm, the Stream of the Blue Men, or more exactly the Blue-Green Men. The adjective in Gaelic describes that dark half-colour which is the colout of deep sea water at the foot of a black cliff. These Blue-Green Men are strange, dripping, semi-human creatures who comr aboard and sit alongside you in the sternsheets, sing a verse or two of a complex song and, if you are unable to continue in the same metre and with the same rhyme, sink your boat and drown your crew.

That's Adam Nicholson, in Sea Room, part of that book-haul I was so triumphant about at the time. It turns out to be a very good sort of book to pick up when you hace a wretched cold that won't go away, and you aren't sleeping well, and you want to take a break in the afternoon but you don't want to get too deep into anything. And if you drift off to sleep among thoughts of islands, there's no harm done.

Wikipedia knows these 'Blue men of the Minch', though its account lacks the charm of Nicolson's: they are kelpies, it says, if not Picts, or possibly Touareg.

If the weather had been more encouraging while we were in the Western Isles, we might have tried to find a cruise to the Shiant Islands: we did consider it, once we had worked out that the islands are the only place in the Hebrides where you see puffins. (See! puffins!) Puffins like it there, it seems, because they return year after year: puffins ringed on the Shiants in 1975 and 1977 were found there again in 2009 (and reported to be Europe's oldest puffins, though an Icelandic puffin site claims that the oldest puffin on record is one ringed in the Westman Islands which was 38 years old when recovered).

Now, the Westman Islands really are on my must-see list...
shewhomust: (puffin)
Help me, internet: do you know of any sort of concordance to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey / Maturin novels?

As I said, while I was in Berwick I picked up The Mauritius Command and Desolation Island, and swallowed them straight down in long draughts. I am not the reader they deserve, because most of the carefully researched nautical detail passes me straight by, and I am content to let it do so; I skip or at best skim the scholarly essays included in the backs of my paperback editions, pausing only to curse that they bulk out the number of pages remaining, so that the end of the book always comes as a surprise. I can usually tell from the narrative that Jack Aubrey has done something particularly clever with the arrangement of his sails, without any need to know what it is - and I suspect that the author is resigned to this, since he provides in Stephen Maturin a similarly uncomprehending observer, to whom may be explained as much - or as little - as is required.

It is the details of daily life, on ship and ashore, which make me wish for an easily accessible glossary. Sometimes a decent dictionary will do. In Desolation Island, transported convicts bring an outbreak of gaol-fever on board the Leopard (I don't think this is a spoiler; it is referred to in the back-cover copy). I'd heard the name before, and thought of it as any of the diseases that could break out and spread in the crowded and unsanitary prisons of the time: but here it seemed to refer to one specific disease, and I looked it up - yes, it's typhus.

The Branco puffin which appears in the same book was more elusive. Stephen goes ashore in search of physic-nuts (in the dictionary) and a Branco puffin (definitely not). He finds it at the house of a vendor of salted-preserved Branco nestlings (honorary fish, and so permitted food in Lent), and has the body of an adult nailed to his door as a sign. Stephen is delighted with this trophy, which is an authentic, true Branco puffin and not, as he had feared, a cormorant or gull. All the internet could offer me on this passage is this archived blogpost from Tom Watson, who dismisses it: "O'Brian was clearly inventing; even this non-birder knows a Puffin looks nothing like a Cormorant - that the two could hardly be confused. I suspect the great writer merely liked the sound of the words."

The sound of the words, that's the thing, and we have been here before: Martin Martin, writing at the end of the seventeenth century, does not attach the name 'puffinet' to what we now call a puffin, but to a shearwater. This was a more fruitful search topic. The first possibility I came across was the White-chinned or Spectacled Petrel, because in French it is a Puffin à menton blanc ou P. à lunettes, and I am delighted to learn that 'puffin' is a French word - but it won't do, it lives too far south - Dr Maturin is ashore in the Cape Verde islands (and the wonderful Patrick O' Brian Mapping Project helped me here).

Never mind, other shearwaters and petrels are also available: and charming though the Christmas shearwater (Puffinus nativitatis) is, the prime suspect is obviously the Cape Verde shearwater. The clue is in the name - and while it isn't all that like a a cormorant or a gull, Dr. Maturin probably doesn't expect too much accuracy from his informant.

So I'm glad we've got that cleared up. But does anyone know of any sort of concordance?
shewhomust: (puffin)
The winner of the poll for Britain's National Bird was announced this morning: it's the robin. On this morning's Today programme the interviewer - was it John Humphrys? - was unimpressed: he'd been backing the blackbird, which came third. David Lindo, the ornithologist who came up with the scheme, explained that the blackbird had seemed set to come second, until they counted the votes of the schoolchildren who had voted on election day: a surge of support for the barn owl ("the Harry Potter effect") pushed the blackbird down into third place. But Lindo seemed pleased that 60% of voters were not associated with any wildlife organisation. It's a clever piece of PR for birds in general, though I see it more as further proof that if you solicit the opinions of people who are not really interested, you will end up with an uninteresting answer.

[ETA: Stephen Collins dishes the dirt on the lovable robin.]

Naturally, I voted for the puffin, with my usual instinct for the popular choice: it came tenth (that is, the least popular of the shortlisted birds; the full list is here). I could make a case for the puffin as our national bird: it is found all round the coast of Britain, and we are a maritime nation. I didn't expect it to win, but I didn't expect it to come last, either. Clearly not Britain's most popular bird, then, but perhaps our most relentlessly marketed.

We didn't see any puffins when we were in the Hebrides (we probably saw more starlings than anything else): I'd have been more disappointed if I'd been less surprised. Puffins on postcards, on mugs, in artworks of all qualities and none, in calendars, yes, and I may have purchased one or two. But the actual puffins nest in specific places, and these are on the smaller islands. We could have taken a boat trip from Stornoway to the Shiant islands, and if it hadn't been so wet and windy we might have, but as it was, the prospect wasn't inviting, and no right-thinking puffin would have hung around outside its burrow. Likewise, if we had made it to St Kilda, we'd probably have seen some puffins there.

This is what Martin Martin wrote about his visit to the island in 1695 or thereabouts:
The scraber, so called in St. Kilda; in the Farn Islands, puffinet; in Holland, the Greenland dove; its bill small, sharp pointed, a little crooked at the end, and prominent; it is as large as a pigeon, its whole body being black, except a white spot on each wing; its egg grey, sharp at one end, blunt at the other.


The bouger, by those in St. Kilda so called; coulter-neb by those in the Farn Islands; and in Cornwall, pope; it is of the size of a pidgeon, its bill is short, broad, and compressed sidewise, contrary to the bills of ducks, of a triangular figure, and ending in a sharp point, the upper mandible, or jaw, arcuate and crooked at the point; the nostrils are long holes produced by the aperture of the mouth; the bill is of two colours; near the head, of an ash colour, and red towards the point; the feet are yellow, the claws of a dark blue; all the back black, breast and belly white. They breed in holes under ground, and come with a south-west wind about the twenty-second of March, lay their egg the twenty-second of April, and produce the fowl the twenty-second of May, if their first egg be not taken away; it is sharp at one end, and blunt on the other.
I knew that puffinus puffinus is not a puffin, and presumably Martin's scraber / puffinet is some kind of shearwater. The bouger, or coulter-neb is the puffin. A coulter is the blade of a ploughshare, so coulter-nose is a fine tribute to the puffin's impressive beak.

And one last piece of ornithological etymology, to which I was directed by one of WordSpy's Monday round-ups. I know the Yiddish word to kibbitz, to spectate with audible and unwanted commentary (I associate it with the game of chess, but not in a good way). I hadn't known that it derives, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, from the Middle High German word for a lapwing which apparently has "a folk reputation as a meddler. ... Young lapwings are proverbially precocious and active, and were said to run around with half-shells still on their heads soon after hatching."

Which brings me back to my starting point, because my second favourite bird (one which didn't even make the top 10) is the lapwing.
shewhomust: (puffin)
A puffin also communicates information in its manner of walking. If the puffin is walking rapidly with its head lowered it is saying, "I am just passing through and don't mean any trouble." This is called a low profile walk and is useful because the colony is very crowded and a puffin is often crossing another puffin's territory as it walks. The puffins that are guarding burrows usually assume a pelican walk position that has the puffin stand stiffly erect with its beak next to its body and using slow exaggerated foot movements. This makes the puffin look like a soldier on guard duty, which is just what it is doing by guarding the burrow.

"The puffin may also stomp its foot in place to show its displeasure."

Puffin FAQs from Audubon's Project Puffin
shewhomust: (puffin)
There is a substantial post on the simmer - not necessarily interesting, you know, but substantial - and it's creating a bit of a bottleneck. Sorry about that.

Meanwhile, have a cute baby photo.

Good, eh? Have another!
shewhomust: (bibendum)
...and we're home again! But first, back to the holiday posts.

From our sitting room windows we had a fine view across the Firth to the Isle of May, and in the evenings we could watch the double flash of the lighthouse. We had agreed - for various reasons - that Wednesday was the day we would take the boat trip across to visit the island, so I was quite anxious when I woke that morning to see - well, not very much: the previous day's haar had thickened to a real sea mist. But the sun soon burned it off, and it ended up warm and sunny, the best weather of the entire week.

We drove into Anstruther in time to buy tickets as soon as the booth opened, which gave us an hour and a half before our sailing to explore the town. Time to visit the bookshop, where I bought a copy of Moomin and the Sea - it seemed appropriate. Time to check out the charity shop (the only one I saw all week) and the deli, and the bakery that boasted of a recent competition triumph: "the second best fruit scone in Scotland". This rather muted superlative seems to be the local style: today I saw, emblazoned across the fascia of a sandwich shop, "Probably the best filled rolls in Fife." Probably.

It was a day of superlatives. As I boarded the May Princess I was complimented by the boatman: "Lovely t-shirt. Best one of the season so far." (It was the Icelandic puffin one, of course.) Not that the season is very far advanced, but I was pleased, anyway. The crossing was calm, but something about it made GirlBear feel very queasy, and she wasn't able to enjoy the fine display of puffins overflying us as we neared the island - "It's puffintastic today!" said the boatman.

The island is a nature reserve. We were greeted by one of the resident wardens, and given the talk: stay on the paths, don't cross the rope barriers, don't worry too much about the terns, they aren't too aggressive at the moment, we've only just found the first egg - and this was true, although later in the afternoon the Bears did observe one lady coming under attack (according to the Isle of May blog post about the day of our visit these fiece little birds have been filmed attacking polar bears).

Both sides now

After this we had several hours to explore the island, to circumambulate the (Stevenson) lighthouse, sitting next to the remains of the seventeenth century beacon tower - the first in Scotland. We followed paths out to the edge of the cliffs, and sat and watched the puffins: [ profile] durham_rambler has some fine close-up photos, but I was pleased with this one of mine, because you can just, I hope, make out the puffins on the top of the cliff, the guillemots lower down, and Anstruther back on the mainland. I learned a new puffin fact from the information boards at the visitor centre, too: numbers of puffins on the island fluctuate from day to day, as the puffins go about doing whatever it is that puffins do; but the numbers peak every five or six days, when the majority of the birds congregate "apparently to sort out any outstanding colony business!" it says here. "Party time!" says GirlBear.

Puffins are special, but other seabirds are also available. Have some guillemots:


I was disproportionately thrilled by the gannets: just a pair of them on the outward voyage, a group of three on our return, so white in the sunshine, neck stretched foreward, with such a lazy flap of the wings but moving so fast - no chance of a photo. Instead, a silly one of a gull sitting on the South Horn:

South horn

Also on the return trip, we sailed round Norman Rock to see the grey seals: always a pleasure. And back in Anstruther, I had time to cross the road to the museum shop, and buy next year's puffin calendar. So altogether a day well spent.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
  1. The Vikings were not the first settlers of the Faroe islands: someone else was there first - by quite a long way - though we don't know who they were, according to Durham University archaeologists.

  2. Gail-Nina sent me a puffin! More precisely, this painting by Amelia Jane Murray of A Fairy Standing on a Guillmot, Watched by a Puffin, 1817-1829. That is not a guillemot. This is a guillemot, accompanied by a puffin. Manx puffins are "not ungrateful to the palate" (but do they have tails?). More fairy paintings by Amelia Jane Murray, Lady Oswald.

  3. Steven Poole in the Guardian on the language of war: "For a modern American culture that runs on a religion of incessant disruption and innovation, it's odd that "unconventional weapons" are anathema. In the field of things designed to kill people, it seems that original thinking is bad."

  4. My young man's a Cornishman - Jim Causley sings Charles Causley

  5. Tutankhamun's underwear - how did I miss this exhibition?
shewhomust: (dandelion)
I filed the news that Amble was planning a puffin festival under 'ambivalence'. Government funding to regenerate the economy of small, slightly down-at-heel seaside town, puffins as a stimulus for local business: altogether not promising. Still, seaside! Puffins! There was no way we were going to miss this, even before we had such a good time at another seaside festival.

There was a very full programme of activities, which I was rather overwhelmed by, and ignored - I'm not saying that I wasn't tempted by the promise of an environmental burial exhibition by Co-operative Funeralcare, but we weren't free that day; and maybe going on a Bank Holiday Sunday was tempting fate, but the sun was shining...

In fact it worked out very well. Despite my ambivalence about puffin-related retail, one of the most charming features of the festival was the way local businesses had adopted the theme. The Co-op funeral parlour had a parade of puffins marching along its frontage. Large cut-out puffins had evidently been made available, and businesses had accessorised theirs appropriately: carrying a pint on the wall of a pub, with a cornet outside the ice-cream parlour, heading towards the skateboard and scooter shop - which also had a small window display of fishermen's ganseys - wearing a cycling helmet. There was a small food market in the Town Square, where we sampled and bought some seabird-themed beer, and the biggere, regular market on the quayside - more tat and less car-boot than I remembered it, but I bought some cherries, and a paperback about Robert Stuart and the Oregon Trail (a subject about which I know nothing).

We lunched at The Old Boathouse on the Quayside. It looked promising - emphasis on the simple and the fresh, in the menu and the décor both - but we got off to a bad start, walking at 12.30 into an almost empty restaurant to be greeted with "Have you booked?" And then: "Well, you'll have to be out by two!" I suppose they'd accepted a large booking for a late lunch - we were long gone by two so I never found out - but there was no need to make it into my problem, and the result was probably to make me more critical than I would otherwise have been. I had the fishcake and asparagus, and a side order of chips: that's one, spherical fishcake, pleasant but slightly bland, sitting on maybe four or five stalks of asparagus, sliced lengthwise and perfectly cooked, tender but not soft and intense in flavour, in a pool of thin creamy sauce, which I suppose was hollandaise. I thought the quantity a bit mean, and was glad I'd ordered the chips - except that they weren't the crispy sort of chip, and were altogether too similar in texture to the fishcake. If we'd been sitting in the window watching the gulls on the quay, over a leisurely lunch, I might have been very happy; as it was, I thought it was good but overpriced, and when we were offered the dessert menu, we said no, thanks, and headed off to Spurreli for ice cream.

Here, the opposite applies: the ice cream was OK - it was probably good of its kind, but that kind is too sweet and creamy for my taste. The flavours sounded interesting, but sea buckthorn turned out to be orange in colour and flavour both (maybe just a bad choice). But we sat by the window, near the screen showing the RSPB's DVD of Coquet Island (puffin cabaret!). I was charmed by the fact that not only were the staff all wearing puffin t-shirts, they were all wearing different puffin t-shirts, presumably their own. The coffee was good, too.

From the ridiculous to the sublime: we had booked the four o' clock puffin cruise, which gave us time to walk out of town one way along the Braid and watch the kite-flyers, and out the other way and back along the jetty. The cruise was pure joy, and we saw many puffins, more than last year: on the water in the large groups which are apparently known as rafts, on the island by their burrows, in the air - at one point a raft of them took off as we passed, and just for a moment I was surrounded by puffins. There were also some inquisitive seals, many terns, one of which the boatman (Dave Gray Jr, according to his name badge) said was roseate, and just one gannet. I took a number of photos, not really expecting to catch anything, so the sparkly light in this one was a pleasant surprise:


And those flecks in the water over toward the island are a raft of puffins.

Bonus link: Muffin the Puffin. (Warning: contains earworms, and unreliable information about the social life of the puffling.)
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Amble has secured government funding for a puffin festival.

Puffin festival! What's not to like?

Apart, that is, from Other People getting in the way of my puffins. (Puffins are mine. Obviously.)

The chairman of Amble Business Club is quoted as saying: "It's not just about retail, we want people to use local service providers, tradesmen and professional services as well."

In my previous place of employment, my job was to identify the product being advertised, and one rule of thumb was: If it says 'it's not just software', it's software. Likewise, if it's not just about retail, it's about retail. Also about other local businesses.

Still, puffin festival.

(Other festivals are also available, and not far down the coast.)
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Something more cheerful than my last post: continuing our travels in California last spring. It wouldn't have occurred to me to visit an aquarium, but the one in Monterey was enthusiastically recommended to us by a variety of people, none of whom are hardened aquarium visitors. So we booked ourselves an overnight in Monterey, at the Clarion Hotel, up a long hill from the waterfront but very comfortable, with swimming pool. They offered a two day ticket to the aquarium for the price of a single day, and armed with this we split our visit in two, with a preliminary sortie in the late afternoon, and a more thorough exploration the following morning - a very successful strategy. And did we see anything? Yes, wonderful things:


- which is why most of this post is pictures. )
shewhomust: (dandelion)
And to brighten the bleak midwinter, I sort through the cards we received at Christmas, as I did for Christmas 2007, 2008 and 2010. And where else to start but with the snow scenes?

List under the cut )

Our own card-sending was patchy this year - we bought cards as we saw some we liked, never finding enough of one kind; the system for printing out address labels broke down completely; at least one card was overlooked in the excitement and had to be handed over on New Year's Day. But looking through the cards we receive, amazed at how much effort some of our friends put into making them (hand-made cards is impressive enough, but hand-made paper?) and charmed all over again by designs which don't sound special when I describe them, but which are inexplicably pleasing to the eye - well, I do know why we carry on doing it.

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