A Year in Books 2018 – July to September

the-year-in-books

A Year in Books

Thanks to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for creating the challenge, The Year in Books.

The summer months for me always seem to be the hardest when it comes to reading. Even when we’ve had such a wonderful summer as 2018. This year, I’ve managed to sit in the yarden and sunbathe while delving into a novel or two, but my tally is still low compared to cooler months.

This quarter I have managed to read nine books. Much better than last years quarter but no where near my tally for April to June this year. Here’s what I read this quarter.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

After what seemed like an age, I finally managed to get my hands on this Costa award winning novel and it didn’t take me long to love it! Eleanor is a young woman struggling to cope with a traumatic event from her childhood. She has been mentally and physically scared and her out look on life is shaped by her past. This book is not only about survival but about facing and dealing with daemons. It is funny and sad but ultimately it is about redemption.

What are your thoughts if you’ve read this novel?

Bird Box – Josh Malerman

As a suspense novel, the narrative just didn’t grab me. Perhaps it had a lot to live up to after Eleanor Oliphant? Even so, despite the tension, this Stephen King-esque failed to hit the mark. There were some weird episodes but I couldn’t feel for the characters and was left feeling deflated at the end of the novel. It felt like a poorly written M Night Shyamalan script.

The Ice Twins – S K Tremayne

This was a novel suggested by my mum. The premise was of twin sisters, where one had died. A year on the surviving twin begins to believe she is the dead sister. Did they get the identity of the dead twin wrong? The narrator, Sarah is estranged from her husband and still mourning her daughter. Angus (the husband) inherits a house on a remote island on the west coast of Scotland and moves the family there. This isolation brings the psychological drama to a head. It was a quick read but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Tess Gerritsen’s Playing with Fire.

Animal Farm – George Orwell

Surprisingly I enjoyed this political satire. George Orwell wrote his critique on the Russian Revolution but in theory it could be a reflection of any revolution. The animals of Manor Farm have had enough of being ruled by farmer, Mr Jones and stage their own revolution led by the intellectual pigs. However as time progresses, life under the new regime seems at odds with the origins of the revolution and to stop the dissenting farm stock the pigs unleash a brutal regime which cripples, maims and kills many of the cast. You can’t but be sympathetic to the likes of Boxer and Clover who are ground down by the machine that the pigs enact. The final act of betrayal is when the pigs are seen to walk on two hooves. This can be read that the pigs are just bad as the humans they hoped to replace. It is a piece of writing that makes you think!

Have you read this satire, what were your impressions?

Sarah Millican – How to be Champion

I am not a reader of autobiographies. I only downloaded this book as it was on offer for .99p. It took me a while to get into the narrative but I quite enjoyed it in the end. Sarah isn’t much older than myself and I noticed we did similar things and used the same items when we were both growing up in the 1980’s.

Outlander – Diana Gadaldon

I’m still slogging my way through this tome, and there are several more sequels in the series! Though a good premise, of a woman from the 1940’s travelling back in time to Jacobite Scotland, however I found the narrative boring. I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of the series. Perhaps the TV adaptation is better?

Have you read this book? What were your impressions?

Swim Wild – The Wild Swimming Brothers

I delved into the realm of wild swimming again. This time I quite enjoyed reading about the tales of the three brother’s expeditions, of swimming the entire length of the River Eden and the maelstroms around Norway and Scotland. The narrative is fractured by personal reveries and memories of growing up by the author, Jack Hudson, but I found it a nice book to read none the less.

If you’d like to read more of the Wild Swimming Brother’s adventures, then follow the link to their blog.

Me Before You – JoJo Moyes

I bought this book on the recommendation of comedienne Sarah Millican, from her autobiography (see above). I got into the first person narrative quickly enough and really enjoyed the banter between Louise and Will. Both characters are scared but in different ways. I liked how the writer sculptured their unlikely relationship and the ending had me shedding silent tears. I am a softy sometimes!

If you have read the book? Seen the film? What did you think?

The Girl in the Spider’s Web – David Lagercrantz

I thought I would give this sequel to the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson a go. I really enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the other sequels not so. So far it seems a slow burn. I’ll let you know how I go.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations?

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

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Glencoe and Loch Etive

Since holidaying in the town of Fort William our journey to and back home passed the famous Glencoe valley. The Three Sisters need no introduction. Bidean nam Bian as they are also named, create the picturesque and iconic scene which so many travellers have photographed. On our journey home we had to stop off and take a picture of this wondrous mountain range.

glencoe

However before we headed towards the Glencoe valley, we paid a short visit to Glencoe Lochan, some 20 minutes drive from Fort William.

Glencoe Lochan is a man made lochan created by Lord Strathcona in the 1890’s. Lord Strathcona was governor general of Canada before returning to Scotland. He created a landscape planted with North American trees to aid his homesick Canadian wife. However Lord Strathcona’s attempts failed and the couple later emigrated to Canada. Today some people comment that the lochan looks like a miniature Lake Louise in British Columbia.  I had planned on a wild swim here, but on the day the water looked brown and uninviting and there was no easy entrance into the lochan. Sadly I gave this swim up and made my way towards Glencoe and Glen Etive.

glencoe lochan 1

Glencoe Lochan

Glen Etive is some 30 minutes drive along the A82 from Glencoe. The Glen is accessible via a winding single track road with passing places. As we drove deeper into the Glen, a white rapid River Etive surged to our left. In the distance low lying clouds drifted enticingly over the loch. There is a car park to the north end of Loch Etive with some access to the loch-side. On arrival I noticed a distinct salty scent to the air, thus being because Loch Etive is a sea-loch.

loch etive 1

Loch Etive

We made our way to the shoreline and stood on a sandy beach overlooking Loch Etive. Though the entrance looked inviting, I wanted somewhere more secluded. So we headed south towards a small ruined jetty, where once ferries docked. Having found a decent entrance point I began my rigmarole of getting ready for a swim. I don’t know whether it is because I chose poplar viewpoints to access the water but whenever I go for a swim, I always seem to draw a crowd. Loch Etive was no different. While I was fighting the rain and midges whilst trying to strap various accouterments to my person I noticed a man with a dog watching from the jetty, then a young couple joined him. Then to my horror a man with a fishing rod was seen poking his head from the jetty wall. From experience and reading stories from others’ I know that swimmers and fishermen do not mix! I was fearful of confrontation! Thankfully, I kept my distance and the fisherman seemed to go back to his watch.

The entrance to Loch Eive was deceptive. Though the shallows looked rocky, it soon smoothed out into a bed of sand and seaweed. Much like Loch Lomond, I walked out into the water. I really enjoyed the swim in Loch Etive and was in the water for around 15 minutes. Terrence the thermometer clocked 13° but it felt much warmer.

While swimming, the man with the dog walked to the loch-side and stood chatting with David. His dog (a terrier) barked at me, and I wanted him to come swim with me, but he wasn’t that kind of dog. So I swam alone. As time passed the rain grew heavier. Worried for David, I cut short my swim and stumbled back onto land, where I hurried into my Dryrobe® and threw everything into my rucksack. I would get dry and changed in the relative warm confines of the car.

Loch Etive was my final swim in Scotland for 2018. Perhaps I can get up again next year?

Have you swam in a Scottish Loch? Visited Glencoe and the surrounding area?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

What’s That Coming Over the Hill?

It wasn’t a monster… that David and I saw at Loch Ness but unwelcoming waves. I don’t like swimming when it’s windy as the chop knocks me about a bit. Not to mention throws spray up my nose and into my mouth. Unfortunately the day we had chosen for my Loch Ness swim dawned squally. Determined to face the swell we headed towards the shores of Loch Ness.

loch ness3b

Loch Ness

The drive from Fort William took two hours. We headed north-east along the B852 towards a lay-by overlooking a stony beach. The rain that had dogged the morning cleared away to leave broken clouds drifting over the large expanse of loch, sadly the wind prevailed.

Fun fact: Loch Ness contains more water than all the lakes/llyns of England and Wales combined! Though it isn’t the deepest lake, that accolade goes to Loch Morar. Loch Ness is pretty large and only second in size to Loch Lomond.

I was excited to face Loch Ness and to swim in its salt tasting waters. However my dream didn’t turn into the reality I had hoped. The stony beach was shallow and the waves crashing onto the shore were that fierce I couldn’t stand, let alone swim. I sat down in the shallows and clung for dear life to a rock as the swell knocked me for six. Whenever I thought the wind was dying down, a large wave took me unawares. The swim turned out disappointing. I decided to call it quits after 10 minutes of being battered by the wind and water. I’d rather be safe than nursing contusions or worse. It seemed there was only room for one monster in Loch Ness that day!

Have you visited Loch Ness? What were your impressions?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

12 Hours of Day #10

It is with many thanks to Louise at Ramblings of a Roachling, for informing me of the future dates for #photoanhour on Instagram. I knew there was one planned for when we came back from holidaying in Scotland. So on Saturday 22nd September I logged onto Instagram and noticed other Instagramers posting about #photoanhour. I decided to join in. So here’s what I got up to during my 12 hours of day!

Photo an Hour – 22nd September 2018

8am to 9am:

My Saturday began like any other day, with coffee and granola. However my day could so easily have begun at 6.30am when we were rudely woken up by headbutts from Artie wanting us to get up!!

9am to 10am:

This Saturday we went shopping at Asda for our weekly shop. We haven’t been here for a while, as we have been ordering a delivery online most weeks. It was a shock to the system to be honest! We had become used to our food being delivered every week!

10am to 11am:

Since we missed Artie’s 4th birthday, as we were away in Scotland, we decided to buy him a present of a new scratch post. The other one he had had since he was a kitten and was looking sadly worse for wear!

11am to 12pm:

We took a visit to #purplecarrot for organic Discovery Apples. 😁 As soon as I knew they had them in stock, I was round there at the soonest opportunity! You all know by now my penchant for Discovery Apples! 😀

12pm to 1pm:

We popped in for a visit to David’s family and received cuddles from their Newfoundland Bennie. 😁

1pm to 2pm:

On our way home, we stopped off at Lister Drive Fisheries and bought some finch food for our aviary.

2pm to 3pm: 

Lunch was with a cup of tea and sampling the Discovery Apples I had bought from #purplecarrot. I love the cat ornament David’s mum gave us from her recent holiday.

3pm to 4pm:

I had a date with Henry! A quick clean of the house was much needed!

4pm to 5pm:

I took to chopping lots of vegetables, ready to be roasted for the evening’s dinner. 😊 We were making roasted vegetable parcels. Always a hit in our house!

5pm to 6pm:

While the vegetables were roasting, I set the table. I like a nice, romantically lit dining room.

6pm to 7pm:

Dinner of scrumptious roasted vegetable parcels with salad was mmm… tasty!😁

7pm to 8pm:

I spent the remainder of the evening catching up with composing blog posts.

How did you spend your Saturday?

Thanks to Janey and Louisa for setting up the challenge, and thank you for reading,

Christine x

My First Scottish Wild Swim – Loch Lomond

Ever since I started wild swimming, my desire to swim in a Scottish Loch has been like an itch I couldn’t scratch. This September, as an early birthday treat we decided to head to Fort William for a few days in the Highlands.

The journey north from Liverpool passes Loch Lomond and the Trosachs National Park via the A82. The plan for the day was to travel the six hours to Fort William with a stop off at Loch Lomond for my first Scottish wild swim!

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Loch Lomond

Four hours into the journey we stopped at a parking point (near Inverbeg), with views of Loch Lomond. With the amount of preparations I do now, I can’t just have a quick swim. Stripped to my swimsuit, I firstly have to inflate Doughnut and fix it to my waist. Then don my neoprene boots and gloves to protect my extremities. Also, I now have a beanie hat to help keep the heat in. Then I strap Wilson, my waterproof camera to my chest. All this I do before I even head towards the water!

Wrapped in my Dryrobe® I waddled like a penguin towards the shore. The shore I chose to embark on my first Scottish wild swim was of soft shingle, with Ben Lomond on the opposite side. The weather on the day was cloudy, but not too cold. I was prepared for frigid temperatures, but in reality the water temperature was around 14°. I can safely say I’ve swam in colder waters!

With David taking pictures and video on shore. I waded out into the water. I always seem rather nervous before I head into the water. Perhaps it’s because I don’t know what to expect from the water’s bed? Is it going to be blissful soft shingle like Llyn Cwellyn, or rocky as hell and a scramble to get in like Derwentwater? Thankfully my first Scottish wild swim was the former. The shingle beach slopped down in increments and I walked out until the water lapped around my neck.

I thoroughly enjoyed my swim in Loch Lomond. I swam back and forth along the shoreline and even managed to dunk my head for an underwater shot. Much fun was had and I really didn’t want to get out. However we had to travel a further two hours to our accommodation for the three nights stay.


We booked our accommodation via Airbnb. I had never used the website before until my friend Jennifer informed us that her European trip was booked through the website. After doing a search of the Fort William area, one accommodation seemed promising. A self catering apartment overlooking Loch Linnhe called Glenloch View. With much deliberation we decided to book, at £248 for three nights, it was cheaper than the hotels in the region. Check in was via Lock-box, so we never met the proprietor. However on arrival there was a vase with fresh cut flowers and a bag of tasty fudge for us. The ground floor apartment was clean and bright and very new. It had a lobby where boots and wet clothes could be left to dry. The living room/kitchen was open plan and had nice views of Loch Linnhe. The kitchen had an oven, microwave and fridge/freezer, and everything you needed to cook evening meals or even a cake! The double bedroom and bathroom was at the back of the apartment. There was TV with Freeview, a stereo and Internet. The apartment was very comfortable and we did not want to anything. I’ll end this post with a few pictures of the apartment.

Have you stayed in Fort William? Booked via Airbnb? Even swam in a Scottish Loch/Lochan?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

The Oak Tree Experiment.

On my walk to work I pass a row of oak trees. At this time of year, I noticed they had dropped lots of acorns on the ground which crunched underfoot. This got me thinking. Perhaps I could rescue a couple and experiment to see if I could grow one of them? So, I gathered a few on my recent walk and took three decent looking acorns home.

After doing some research I noted that acorns should be brown when planting. Mine were green, so I don’t know whether they will grow or not. Either way, I found a spare pot in which to plant the acorns. I made three small holes and planted the acorns before covering over with soil. I sprinkled some water and have left the pot in a sunny area. I shall update you on the progress of these little acorns and see if any of them will grow.

Have you been successful in growing a tree from seed?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #54

Recently, I’ve been itching to write a blog post but I’ve not had any new material. So the next best thing is to compile a Sunday Sevens, devised by Natalie at Threads and bobbins and update you on that I’ve been up to this past week!

#walk1000miles:

I’m still counting my miles. This week I managed to walk 42 miles, bringing my annual total (to date) to 1,265 miles. I also attached my 2018 medal to the framed certificate. You can get your medal from the #walk1000miles shop.

Party Time:

David and I attended a party to celebrate the elopement of my cousin and his wife. They married earlier in the year in Las Vegas, with an Elvis impersonator officiating. The party at Leaf had a Las Vegas theme. There was also a photo booth for the guests to play around with.

Collecting:

Recently I obtained another Beatrix Potter 50 pence. This time it was Benjamin Bunny who I found in my change!

Book I Am Reading:

I am currently reading, and enjoying Swim Wild, a book written by the Wild Swimming Brothers, Jack, Calum and Robbie Hudson.

Terracotta Warriors:

I treated mum to a visit to Liverpool’s World Museum to see the Terracotta Warrior exhibition. I didn’t take that many pictures this time as I had already visited the display in March with David. You can read about that visit here. Mum seemed to enjoy the exhibit and I managed to see the Golden Horse of Maoling, which wasn’t featured in the display when I visited in March.

Another Sparrowhawk Visit:

sparrowhawk

Female Sparrowhawk

This Friday, just after evening dinner, I looked out towards the yarden and spied a female sparrowhawk. It was the same female who visited and snacked on a starling not two weeks earlier! You can read more about sparrowhawks here. She was sitting on the roof opposite, watching as all the goldfinches flittered past, wanting their evening meal. In turn, David and I watched her for about an hour. She sat patently, awaiting an easy target. Unfortunately, (for her prey) she did get a kill. This time it was a baby goldfinch. It’s a sad spectacle but also fascinating to witness. This female now knows lots of birds visit the yarden. I wonder if she will visit again in future?

So, that was my week, how was yours?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

The Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawks have featured a few times on my blog. The first was a fleeting visit where I didn’t even have time to pick up my camera. The second visit, last year, was of a male sparrowhawk surveying the area.

The most recent visitation by this enigmatic bird arrived on a dreary August bank holiday Monday. David was just about to do the dishes when he exclaimed, ‘there’s a sparrowhawk on the wall!’

sparrowhawk female

Female Sparrowhawk

For the next half hour or so we both watched on amazed as a female sparrowhawk sat on the wall and devoured her prey, a poor little starling. We had never seen a sparrowhawk with its prey before. It was a bit gruesome and sad for the starling but you have to think with your head and not with your heart on these matters. If there were no small birds for the sparrowhawk to prey upon, then there would be no sparrowhawks either.

Due to their prey being primarily songbirds (they do eat small mammals too), sparrowhawks often come into conflict with birdwatchers. However there is no correlation between a dip in songbirds and predation by sparrowhawks. In the past there have been two studies on the influence of predation and songbird numbers. Both studies noted that there was in fact more of an increase in songbird numbers than an actual negative correlation when predated by sparrowhawks. Sparrowhawks are noted to prey on the old and infirm, creating a survival of the fittest gene pool for songbirds. Sparrowhawks feed mainly on sparrows, tits, finches and starlings, however female sparrowhawks can hunt birds as large as a pigeon. Recent research led me to discover that the sparrowhawk sometimes does not quickly dispatch of it’s prey. Anything bigger than a sparrow will face a lingering death while being eaten, if a vital organ/artery is not punctured. It made for a sobering read.

The sparrowhawk has in the past been subjected to persecution by trophy hunters and in the 1950’s their numbers crashed due to usage of pesticides such as DDT in farming. It was only after DDT was banned and the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 was passed protecting sparrowhawks, that their numbers increased.

The sparrowhawk is one of the UK’s smallest birds of prey. It is the perfect ambush predator, easily maneuvering in enclosed spaces such as woodland and gardens. However only 1 in 10 hunts result in a meal for the sparrowhawk. Females can be up to 25% larger than males. Sparrowhawks are relatively short lived, their maximum age is around 3 years, but some can live to around seven. They are found all over the UK apart from the Highlands of Scotland. Their eyes change colour with age, starting green and growing more yellow with maturity.

Sparrowhawks are seen as a top predator and their presence indicates that the bird population in an area is healthy. Though it was unpleasant to witness the sparrowhawk with its prey, I was amazed at seeing her in the yarden. Nature after all isn’t sunshine and flowers. I must be doing something right with the feeding of the little birds in order to bring the larger birds to the area.

Have you come close to a sparrowhawk? Seen one with it’s kill? What are your thoughts on UK raptors?

Thanks for reading,

Christine.


Further reading:

Some of the web resources I visited while compiling this blog were:

Springwatch.

Discover Wildlife.

British Bird Lovers.

RSPB.

Living with Birds.

Hello Dippy!

I’d recently read that 200,000 visitors had visited Dippy at Birmingham’s Museum and Art Gallery. That was before David and I ventured south to visit him. I don’t know what possessed me to book tickets to see Dippy on Tour for the August bank holiday! But (free) tickets I had anyway! So this Saturday we drove the two hours from Liverpool. Luckily, I had planned an hours leeway. On our journey south we hit miles of roadworks, due to the M6 being turned into a smart motorway, to be completed 2022! We also faced a junction closure. Junction 10 was closed, due to a police incident. Recent research discovered that the incident was of a man on the wrong side of a bridge! With the motorway swelled with bank holiday traffic and football supporters travelling to see Wolverhampton v Manchester City and Aston Villa v Reading matches, the delays were up to 90 minutes!

Thanks to motorway signs early informing us of the closure at junction 10, we managed to divert, (though heavily), away from the jam and navigated, thanks to the M6 toll (at £5.30 a car), back and around towards the centre of Birmingham. Adding 40 minutes to our journey.

Our meeting with Dippy was at 1pm, so you can imagine the pressure we were on to get to the museum on time. We parked up at the Bullring and with twenty minutes to spare, rushed towards Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which can be found on Chamberlain Square. The entrance to Dippy was on the Gas Hall entrance on Edmund Street.

With time to spare we checked in and walked into the Gas Hall to come face to face with Dippy, a 100 year old cast of not one, but five Diplodocus skeletons. David commented that Dippy was smaller than he’d expected, but during the time we spent with Dippy we marveled at his size. This sauropod (lizard feet) stands some 26m long, is 4m wide and stands 4m tall. I particularly liked his little face with razor sharp teeth. He roamed the earth some 150 million years ago, during the late Jurassic age.

Dippy was undoubtedly the star of the attraction. The surrounding exhibit paled in comparison and sadly did not measure up to my expectation. It was a poorly comprised set of stuffed birds (with pigeons and magpies) alongside skeletons featuring a velociraptor and dodo to emphasise the link between dinosaurs and the evolution of birds. I think the Walking with Dinosaurs Arena show said it more eloquently.

‘We think of dinosaurs as…fierce creatures from a mythical world… they [were on this planet] for 170 million years. If you look closely, you’ll see, they’re not really gone, not completely…remember the raptors, the way their arms folded at the wrists?… The next time you are outside, have a look at a bird and try and imagine it 50 times bigger, with razor sharp teeth. So do not mourn the dinosaurs, they are with us still, their direct descendants are the birds.’

We spent 40 minutes with Dippy. Walked around him three times, and took lots of pictures. I was satisfied that we drove the two hours to see him. We did not linger in Birmingham, though we did casually look at the replica Typhoon, as Victoria Square held a 100 RAF event. We decided to return home, and make head way against the traffic and roadworks, which took three hours instead of two!

We got home to news that an injured pigeon was sitting outside our back door. As you know we have a long standing relationship with the descendants of dinosaurs. I found it rather fateful that this pigeon (a descendant of the T. rex) chose our step to rest upon. He was but a fledgling, his down still protruded from his adult feathers. However we could not save this particular soul. He had suffered a brain injury from what probably was a collision with a wall. His beak was all bloodied and he was labouring for breath. He passed away in our care not an hour later, wrapped him in a towel and placed in a carrier. At least he died safe and warm.

It was rather a mixed day. I’d say Dippy was worth the visit, even if we had to fight through roadworks, delays and road closures to get to him. Dippy will be touring the UK until 2020. If, like us, you hadn’t seen him when he was resident at the Natural History Museum, London, then you can catch him at these other locations:

If you have seen Dippy before, what were your recollections? Do dinosaurs interest you? If so what are your favourites and why?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2018 – Day Twenty-five

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_25Day 25: Today’s Close Up Monday is all about goldfinches.

This colourful finch has been on the increase in the UK, mainly due to changes in feeding habits, enjoying seeds from garden feeders. They ranked #6 in the 2018 RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch.

A very sociable bird, in autumn they flock in charms of 100+.

They predominantly eat seeds (sunflower and niger among others) but also eat aphids. Males are the only ones who can access the seeds from teasel heads. In Victorian times they were captured in their thousands for caged displays. They can have up to three broods a year and nest in trees and bushes.

In the past my yarden has attracted charms of some 20+ birds. Do you have any goldfinches visiting your feeders? They are such pretty birds.

Thanks for reading, and stay wild!

Christine x