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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Maybe, just maybe, a hint of spring...

I slept in my own home last night for the first time in over a week. During that ethereal phase of awaking and wondering where I was, I tried also to work out what it was that had woken me...

And then I realised: They are back!

They are the Lesser Black-backed Gulls that form a loose colony on the chimney tops of the houses in my street. They have returned to start a new breeding season.

One of the pairs of Lesser Black-back Gulls that colonise the chimneys in my street

Right now, they are in dispute, competing vigorously and noisily for the most desirable chimney upon which to raise a family; later, the noise will intensify when eggs are laid and the sight of every domestic cat, or even a mum with a pram, raises a cacophony of scolding alarm cries.

When the chicks hatch, their begging screeches will add to the din, and and the parents swill swoop angrily on those who dare to approach too closely. The racket will rise to a crescendo in July when the cries of the fledgling gulls add to those of the adults.

Yes, from now until the end of July, I expect to be woken each morning by the clamour of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Do I mind?

Not a bit of it! Why choose to live near the sea if you cannot appreciate the sounds that go with it!

Hazel catkins, like a mist in the woodland under-story

This portent of spring prompted me to search for others in the woods where I carry out my fieldwork. Maybe a wild daffodil or two on some mossy bank will be seeking sunlight? Or even a precocious violet or primrose fortunate enough to be lodged in a sheltered sun-trap will have raised its head above the parapet?

But not yet. In the gullies, there was still remnants of recent snow; it will be a few days yet before floral colour is seen in the woods.

The change that I noticed since my last visit was an explosion of catkins on the coppiced hazel trees, dancing like lambs tails in the sunshine that was trying so hard to emerge.

Lambs tails

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mahler in Manchester

Gustav Mahler

This year sees the 150th anniversary of the birth of Gustav Mahler. The occasion is being celebrated by the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, with a Mahler in Manchester season, performing a full cycle of the composer’s symphonies, alongside a series of newly commissioned pieces to show the continuing relevance of Mahler’s music today.

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Last night I was present at a performance of the 4th Symphony, the one that I first became acquainted with as a student, and which has always remained my favourite. The symphony is unusual in that the fourth movement is scored for solo soprano in a setting of a poem from Des Knaben Wunderhorn: 'Das himmlische Leben' (Heavenly Life), about a child's vision of heaven.

Tonight's performance was played by the Hallé Orchestra, conducted by Markus Stenz. He is a German-born conductor and is the General Music Director of the city of Cologne and also the Principal Conductor of Gürzenich-Orchestra, Cöln; this season he has become only the second Principal Guest Conductor of the Hallé Orchestra.

The soprano solo was Carolyn Sampson who sings many roles with the English National Opera.

The Hallé Orchestra tunes up in Manchester's Bridgewater Hall in preparation for a performance of Mahler's 4th Symphony

The conductor Markus Stenz takes to the rostrum

Seven double bass anchor the strings...

...and five French horns attempt to lift the roof.

Gorgeous Carolyn Sampson takes the auditorium for her fourth movement solo

Kein Musik ist ja nicht auf Erden, Die unserer verglichen kann werden.
Elftausend Jungfrauen Zu tanzen sich truaen!

Now, Maalie is not a music critic, but I can report that I found the performance totally enthralling, alternating between tingling spine, hairs standing up on the back of the neck, lumps in the throat and damn close to tears.

Carolyn Sampson and Markus Stenz receive their bouquets to rapturous acclaim
from the audience and members of the Hallé Orchestra alike.

*No music on earth can compare with ours.
Eleven thousand maidens dare to dance!

Those who enjoy the music of Mahler and composers like him will
be interested in Entartete Musik blog.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A cracked chamber pot

A cracked chamber pot is axiomatically not fit for purpose. However, these charming old receptacles need not be thrown away - they are fit for something.

For example, a pot for hyacinths

Today it is Pancake Day in England. Also known variously as Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras. You are supposed to stuff yourself with all things good, before enduring 40 days of misery, deprivation and self-flagellation.

Indeed I stuffed myself.

Ingredients for my pancakes (going round the table approximately clockwise): packet of chopped nuts; Innis and Gunn hand-crafted Scottish beer 6.6%; McEwan's Export Beer; Port wine; banana; lemon; crushed Cadbury's chocolate flake; Wildkirsch Schnapps; sugar bowl; whipped double cream jug; tin of golden syrup; four pancakes.

I shall sleep well tonight. And suffer a miserable first day of Lent.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Welsh Miscellany

I have just returned from a four-day round-trip of Wales, initially to see a football match in the capital city of Cardiff; but there was also a small matter of a granddaughter to visit!

I camped the first night in my X-trail very near my favourite place in Wales, Wallog beach,
and walked down the valley to the sea the next morning

Wallog is geologically interesting for a reef (sarn) that goes out a long way from the shore out to sea; the start of it can be seen in the aerial picture by Google Earth

Some dramatic coastal scenery is seldom visited as it takes quite a trek to get there.
It is home to a number of seabird species

Arriving in South Wales, my granddaughter Heledd decides she'd like to visit the local Wildlife and Wetland Trust's duck sanctuary. Her dad makes sure she stays out of harm's way

Heledd decides to toddle off along a track, making sure we are following close behind

The climax of the visit, and Carwyn can scarcely contain his excitement before the kick-off between one if his former teams, Peterborough United, versus a local adversary, Cardiff City, in the City of Cardiff Stadium

Peterborough United (in green) mounted some threatening attacks but were unable to get the ball into the Cardiff goal. They eventually lost the game two goals to nil.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Austria honours Darwin

During the last year, Natural History Museums all over the world have celebrated the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's publication On the Origin of Species. I visited the London Exhibition in the Natural History Museum, and also took time out from my surveys in Burgenland to visit the National Natural History Museum of Austria in Vienna.

It was interesting to compare the two approaches, both of them excellent in their way. London focussed more on his work, his specimens and theory of evolution. In Vienna, more emphasis was given to "Darwin the Man", depicting his life and times, full of anecdotes.

Looking down the Grand Staircase of the Vienna National Natural History Museum to the entrance foyer. But who is sitting there on the pedestal?

Oh, it's Charles Darwin, astride a giant tortoise of the Galapagos Islands,
reconstructed from a picture of the event!

A model of the ship Beagle that was to transport Darwin on his five year voyage
around South America to the Galapagos Islands

He hated the sea!

A reconstruction of Darwin in his cabin aboard the Beagle,
among his instruments and beloved specimens

A page from Darwin's own manuscript

A pair of the eponymous "Darwin's Finches"

The genius that is Darwin