RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2018

Yesterday we took part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, an annual survey of wild birds seen in the gardens and public spaces of the UK, which gives a snapshot of the health of our native bird population. Last year’s survey recorded some 8 million birds, with around half a million people taking part.

During my stint I had the most amazing encounter. The garden was busy with all sorts of birds, including blackbirds (Turdus merula) and goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) and long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus), feeding on the sunflower seeds and fat balls and mealworms we had put out around the garden. Suddenly most of the birds flew off, and a sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) pitched up right below where I was watching from an upstairs window, perched on the fence panel. We occasionally see a sparrowhawk flying overhead, but rarely have such a good close-up view.

Sparrowhawk (Accipter nisus). Photo by Mark Robinson.

It was looking into our large Mahonia japonica bush by the fence, in which several small birds were sheltering. The mahonia is a dense and prickly bush, so as long as the birds stayed in there, there was no chance of the sparrowhawk getting at them. It spent a few minutes peering in to the bush, then flew sharply round to the other side, pitching up on the fence panel again, and then completed the circle by flying back to its original spot. After a little while it scythed off to land on our shed roof at the bottom of the garden, partially hidden by a large Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ bush. At this point several small birds flew sharpish out of the mahonia in the opposite direction. I was watching the sparrowhawk so only saw them out of the corner of my eye, so didn’t identify them positively, but I think they were likely long-tailed tits, which seem to use the mahonia as a shelter from which to nip out to grab mealworms.

Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus). Photo by David Friel.

Just the other week there was a lovely programme on the box, Hugh’s Wild West, in which Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall learned about the life of long-tailed tits, how they huddle in a group on a branch to roost at night, and lay their eggs in a downy nest made of moss and feathers and cobwebs. They are such delightful little birds, and it was so interesting to learn more about them. The episode is available on the BBC iPlayer for a few weeks here.

Mark E Smith and the Fall

A sad day yesterday, learning of the death at 60 of Mark E Smith. He was the leading force in the Fall (or the Mighty Fall, as John Peel used to call the band), and provided a soundtrack to my youth.

I went to quite a few Fall gigs in the early-mid 80s as my boyfriend of the time was a massive fan. At one gig at Leicester Polytechnic we passed the great man himself on the pavement as we were walking to the venue and he was walking away from it (possibly in search of a pub) … he looked very dapper in a bright red satin shirt. The gig was blistering, as they all were. I found their music challenging and infectious: it took me a while to get in to it. I feel the band went off the boil in the later 80s and never regained the glory days of the late 70s and early 80s, but what a legacy. Here are some of my favourite Fall tracks:

Thanks Mark.

Guardian report and link to obituary

BBC appreciation

A quick bit of google-fu and lo, the internet giveth: photos of the very Fall gig I mentioned above, with Mr Smith resplendent in his shiny red shirt. Apparently the support band (that Mark almost certainly missed) was Felt – I’d completely forgotten that. The gig was on Saturday 19 November 1983, so my boyfriend and I must have come to Leicester from Cambridge for the weekend as our college term didn’t end until early December. Happy days.

Rings that remind me of things: Part 18

Part 18 of an occasional series about rings in my Etsy shop that remind me of things.

Ring:

197o amethyst modernist sterling silver ring, hallmarked in London. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Thing:

1:60 scale wooden model of a screw propeller of the SS ‘Great Britain’, the magnificent and innovative ship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and built in 1843. The ship is now a museum exhibit at Bristol; this model is in the Science Museum in London.

So far I have had rings that remind me of an Iron Age hillfortan alien spaceshipa cream horna radio telescopeNoah’s Arkan octopus tentaclespider eyesPluto and its moon Charonthe rings of SaturnThe Starry Night by Vincent Van Goghsome lichenthe stepped Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara in Egypt, the Quality Street ladya herb knifea sea anemonean Iron Age miniature votive shield and the Mayan Temple of Kukulkan at Chichén Itzá, Mexico.

Another pied male blackbird

In January 2016 I did a short blog post on a pied male blackbird (Turdus merula) we’d been seeing around a lot. We’ve seen a pied blackbird intermittently since then, and yesterday it put in appearance after quite a period of absence. I snapped some photos on my crappy camera, so the quality isn’t the best, but it gives an idea of its markings. Click on all photos to enlarge.

We had thought it was the same bird, but from comparing the photos of the two, it seems that they are different birds. Our newcomer seems to have a ‘Z’ of white on the top of his tail by his body, whereas the 2016 one didn’t. I wonder if the newer one is perhaps the son of our other one.

Our 2016 visitor.

Our 2016 visitor.

Normal male blackbird. Photo by Sannse.

Rings that remind me of things: Part 17

Part 17 of an occasional series about rings in my Etsy shop that remind me of things.

Ring:

1971 modernist sterling silver ring, adjustable. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Thing:

The Mayan Temple of Kukulkan, also known as the Castillo, at Chichén Itzá, Mexico. Photo by frankmx.

So far I have had rings that remind me of an Iron Age hillfortan alien spaceshipa cream horna radio telescopeNoah’s Arkan octopus tentaclespider eyesPluto and its moon Charonthe rings of SaturnThe Starry Night by Vincent Van Goghsome lichenthe stepped Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara in Egypt, the Quality Street ladya herb knifea sea anemone and an Iron Age miniature votive shield.

Amethyst: February birthstone

The deep rich purple of amethysts is so appealing. The stone, a form of quartz, is traditionally the birthstone for the month of February.

Naturally when I see a lovely piece of amethyst jewellery I try to get it for my Etsy shop. Below are some of my snaffles:

Kupittaan Kulta caged amethyst pendant, designed by Elis Kauppi. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

1970 amethyst flower ring, hallmarked in London. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

NE From modernist amethyst ring – a great example of Danish design. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

A 1990 Celtic style brooch with a central facetted amethyst, by Malcolm Gray of Ortak on the Orkney Islands, Scotland. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

A 1972 amethyst and sterling silver choker, by Daedalus Ltd of London. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

This could almost be part of a set with the necklace above: it too dates from 1972. This amethyst and sterling silver ring was made by Magnus Maximus Designs in Cumbria. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

An amethyst and sterling silver modernist bar brooch by NE From of Denmark. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

A stunning amethyst orb ring from 1968 by the Danish master, Hans Hansen. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

Caged amethyst and sterling silver bracelet. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

1970s modernist amethyst and sterling silver adjustable ring. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

1967 NE From amethyst necklace, a superb piece of Danish modernist design. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

1970s amethyst pendant and chain. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

Arts and Crafts style amethyst and sterling silver brooch. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

Huge 1930s Arts and Crafts facetted amethyst ring. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

Amethyst and silver tone plated modernist ring. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

Jugendstil amethyst and 935 silver brooch in the form of ginkgo leaves. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

NE From modernist amethyst wishbone ring: more Danish deliciousness. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

Danish ring featuring a tumble polished amethyst in a silver plated frame. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

Amethyst is such a popular stone it is also mimicked in glass, also known as amethyst paste or crystal:

Amethyst paste and sterling silver brooch by Charles Horner. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

1970s modernist stainless steel and amethyst glass hexagonal link bracelet. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details. (NOW SOLD).

Victorian amethyst paste and pinchbeck brooch. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

Paternoster nostalgia

I was sad to read on the BBC website yesterday that the paternoster in the Attenborough Building at Leicester University has been closed and is going to be removed and replaced with a lift.

The Attenborough Building, University of Leicester. Photo by NotFromUtrecht, Wikimedia Commons.

I have vivid childhood memories of the paternoster, and slightly terrifying rides on it. A paternoster is a type of constantly moving open lift, with compartments stacked on top of another and moving in a constant loop up and down the building. One each floor of the tower there were two openings, one for compartments going up and the other for those going down. The paternoster moved at a slow speed, but it was still unnerving to time your step into and out of the compartment, putting off thoughts of falling and being squashed, half in and half out of the compartment, or getting caught in the exposed mechanisms at the top and bottom of the ride. (Over-riding and under-riding were great thrills).

The paternoster is one of the last few surviving ones in the UK. The paternoster was invented in England in the 1860s, and the installation of new paternosters in buildings was banned in the UK in 1974, making the Leicester University one of the last to be built.

The 18-storey Attenborough Building opened in 1970, and is named after Sir Frederick Attenborough, the Principal of University College (as the institution was known before it became a fully-fledged university) and father of Sir David Attenborough and Lord Richard Attenborough. My father taught in the Philosophy Department, and his office was on the 15th floor, with fabulous views over Victoria Park and beyond. Peregrines nested on the tower, and I remember occasionally seeing them from my Pa’s office in the 70s. His department was closed in 1989 when it merged with and moved to Nottingham University, and he took early retirement.

The Attenborough Building. Photo by NotFromUtrecht, Wikimedia Commons.

The tower had conventional lifts, the paternoster, and (for me) an even more terrifying staircase around a central void which went up the entire height of the building. Being modern architecture, the stairs had no risers, just treads, and a gap between the wall and the steps, with what seemed like a flimsy railing between you and the terrifying abyss to the other side. I still have occasional anxiety dreams about climbing such seemingly rickety staircases …. Every now and then I would force myself to take the paternoster to visit my Pa rather than the lift. Different times: I can’t imagine an unaccompanied child would be allowed in the building on their own these days.

BBC report with film of the paternoster and diagrams of how it works.

Rings that remind me of things: Part 16

Part 16 of an occasional series about rings in my Etsy shop that remind me of things.

Ring:

1977 tiger’s eye ring with a shield shaped head, Birmingham hallmark. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Thing:

Miniature Iron Age copper alloy shield (65 mm by 35 mm), part of the Salisbury Hoard found at Netherhampton, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, and now in the British Museum.

So far I have had rings that remind me of an Iron Age hillfortan alien spaceshipa cream horna radio telescopeNoah’s Arkan octopus tentaclespider eyesPluto and its moon Charonthe rings of SaturnThe Starry Night by Vincent Van Goghsome lichenthe stepped Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara in Egypt, the Quality Street ladya herb knife and a sea anemone.

Liisa Vitali

Liisa Vitali (born in Helsinki, Finland on 9 November 1918, died on her 69th birthday, 9 November 1987) was a Finnish jewellery designer and maker known for her modernist designs that were often drawn from nature. Her jewellery series include the ‘Ladybird’, ‘Lace’, ‘Gardenia’ and ‘Cat’s paw’ designs.

Liisa Vitali.

1971 Liisa Vitali ‘Ladybird’ sterling silver ring with trapped carnelian orb. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

Liisa’s family moved to a farm at Viluksela, a small village in the municipality of Somero in southern Finland, in 1920. After the death of her parents, Liisa and her brother Väinö continued to look after the farm. Liisa had long been interested in jewellery design, winning a school competition with a jewellery set that she had made.

Liisa Vitali. Love how her blouse matches her jewellery!

Some of Liisa Vitali’s designs, including Pitsi (‘Lace’) in the main panel, Leppäkerttu ja iso kivi (‘Ladybird and big stone’) top right, Nuppu (‘Bud’) middle right, and Muurahaisenpolku (‘Ant’s path’ or ‘Ant trail’) bottom right.

Liisa Vitali Pitsi (‘Lace’) bracelet, 1973, in sterling silver. For sale in my Etsy shop: click on photo for details.

As I don’t read Finnish I have found it hard to piece together much more about Liisa’s life: there appear to be conflicting reports of her training, or lack thereof, and which jewellers she may or may not have worked with.

I have read that she started making jewellery to sell in the 1950s, self-taught and working from a home workshop on a small scale in between her farming duties; that she started her career in jewellery-making working for jeweller Kaija Aarikka; that she trained for a short time alongside the great designer Tapio Wirkkala at the Nestor Westerback workshop; that at first her designs were only available from her workshop on the farm, and from Kaija Aarikka’s shop.

Vitali’s designs were manufactured by various companies, including Aatos Hauli, Mauri Sarparanta, Nestor Westerback Ky, and Kultakeskus.

1960s advert for Liisa Vitali’s jewellery.

Some of Liisa Vitali’s designs, including examples of  Pitsi (‘Lace’), Leppäkerttu ja iso kivi (‘Ladybird and big stone’), Nuppu (‘Bud’), and Muurahaisenpolku (‘Ant trail’).

Perhaps her most famous designs are the Leppäkerttu ja iso kivi (‘Ladybird and big stone’, ‘Ladybird’ or ‘Ladybug’) and Pitsi (‘Lace’) series. These are visually very similar, with circular cut-outs in sheet silver or less commonly gold, forming a lacy, holey effect. She also used the lacy cut-outs in her Nuppu (‘Bud’) and Muurahaisenpolku (‘Ant trail’) series. Her love of the natural world is clear in her jewellery, and the inspiration it provided her with can be seen in the names she chose for her various series.

Liisa Vitali.

During her life, Vitali’s work was highly thought-of, and was exported around the world. Apparently Princess Margaret was a fan. Following her death and changing fashions, it fell out of vogue for a while. In 2009 Kultakeskus Oy began to remanufacture Vitali’s designs, bringing them to a whole new audience.

Some named designs by Liisa Vitali:

Ampiaisenpesä (‘Beehive’)

Gardenia (‘Gardenia’)

Kesäheinä (‘Summer hay’)

Kevät (‘Spring’)

Kissantassujen (‘Cat’s paws’)

Leinikki (‘Buttercup’)

Lemmenkukka

Leppäkerttu, Leppäkerttu ja iso kivi (‘Ladybird’, ‘Ladybird and big stone’, ‘Ladybug’)

Muurahaisenpolku (‘Ant trail’)

Nuppu (‘Bud’ or ‘flowerbud’)

Nyöri (‘Cordon’)

Pitsi (‘Lace’)

Ruusu (‘Rose’)

Tuulenpesä (‘The wind’s nest’)

Villiviini (‘Wild wine’)

Further reading:

Leeni Tiirakari 2012, Design Liisa Vitali, Amanita. Available from a Finnish online bookseller.

Don’t miss All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride: Magical festive viewing

I’m a huge fan of all things Nordic, and I’ve just found out that the BBC is repeating a wonderful slow tv programme: All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride.

This is two hours of fabulously festive viewing, as we follow two female Sami reindeer herders and some of their reindeer on a sledge ride across the snowy Lapland landscape as dusk falls. There is no narration or music, just the crunch of the snow, the gentle grunts of the reindeer and the occasional conversation between the women and people they encounter: ski-shod travellers, dog sleds and their drivers, ice fishermen on a frozen lake, and Sami living in their lavvu (wigwam-like tents).

Every now and then some graphics give us information about the Sami and their history and beliefs and social structure, about the animals and plants in the snowy lands: this is done in such a clever way, seemingly embedded within the landscape and sometimes incorporating old photographs.

The programme was first broadcast on Christmas Eve two years ago, and was repeated on Christmas Eve last year. This year it is being shown again, on BBC4 on Saturday 16 December, starting at 7 pm.

The reindeer ride follows an old postal route in Karasjok, in northern Norway, within the Arctic Circle. During their journey, the sledges cross frozen lakes and birch woodland. Sometimes the women ride, and sometimes they walk alongside the reindeer. As the hours of daylight are so short at this latitude in the winter, the journey both starts and finishes with the way lit being by flaming torches. It ends with the Northern Lights putting on a beautiful display above a lavvu. The two Sami reindeer herders are Charlotte Iselin Mathisen and Anne-Louise Gaup.

Ann-Louise Gaup and reindeer.

It may sound boring but it is absolutely magical, and I am so glad to have another chance to watch it again. If you can, do give it a look. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It’s calming, hypnotic, meditative, beautiful, informative, and utterly wonderful.

Slow tv is a type of television programming that started in Norway in 2009. It eschews music or narration, and follows real-time action, rather than that edited for speed and brevity.

If you want to learn more about how the programme was made, this Radio Times article has lots of interesting information. Four separate rides were filmed, one a day for four days, and the best ride was used. There were only four hours of daylight per day, and the temperatures dropped to minus 20 degrees C.

Programme website

Daily Mail review