Archive | August 2017

Birds in our village

We’ve had a few special bird sightings from our cottage this year, but sadly I can’t illustrate any of them with photos as my camera was not to hand …

The first was a strange occurrence indeed. In the 25 years we have lived here we have only once ever before seen a heron (Ardea cinerea) flying over the village. There is not a lot of water round us: we are on the chalk and a lot of the streams are winterbornes ie they only flow in winter, and the nearest lake is 2.25 km (1.4 miles) away and the nearest river about the same distance. So we were very surprised one morning not only to see a heron flying very low over the gardens near us, but to then see it pitch up on a telephone wire over our neighbour’s garden.

Grey heron (Ardea cinerea). Imagine this, but on a telephone wire … Photo by ErRu.

It perched there, swaying slightly, and it was the most amazing sight: such a massive bird, hanging around the cottages completely unconcerned. For such a huge, ungainly bird we were very impressed at its balancing act. It stayed for a few minutes, and then flew off, leaving us delighted.

The second lovely sighting was earlier this week: a lesser spotted woodpecker (Dryobates minor) on one of the telephone poles (I’m not going to call it a telegraph pole because we’re not living in Downton Abbey times any more), going up and down poking insects out of the drilled holes in the pole, and also banging away at the wood.

Lesser spotted woodpecker (Dryobates minor). Imagine this, but on a telephone pole … Photo by Zaltys.

He flew off and then was back again, scurrying up and down the pole. We’ve seen both lesser spotted woodpeckers and green woodpeckers (Picus viridis) doing this, so there must be rich buggy harvests in all the holes.

The third sighting was last night, and a very exciting one: my first ever starling murmuration over the village. When we moved here we rarely saw starlings (Sturnus vulgaris): maybe one or two every now and then. Chap has been feeding our wild birds regularly for a few years now, and in this time we have noticed various bird species increase (and sadly, decrease – or at least, populations seem to fluctuate). One of the success stories is that of the starlings. In the last year the numbers have increased hugely – we now have a biggish flock that seems to stay around the village all day. This might well be to do in part with Chap putting out vast quantities of dried mealworms as well as sunflower seeds several times a day. The starlings (or stormtroopers, as we affectionately call them, due to their strutting walk and bolshy behaviour) come down in droves and hoover up the worms in no time, and I like to think that this regular supply of protein-rich food throughout the year has helped them thrive and breed and raise broods successfully. We regularly see twelve or fifteen juveniles perched on a television aerial or hanging round on the chimney stacks.

Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Adults left and centre front; juveniles right back. Photo by Daniel Plazanet (Daplaza).

The murmuration was so exciting to see. It was at about six thirty – so not near dusk, really, but the sky was very overcast (so overcast that we didn’t get to see the partial eclipse later on last evening, bugger it). I reckon there might have been several hundred birds, and they flew in a long, snaking, undulating group over the houses and perched in one of the large beech trees. Having seen with envy footage of huge murmurations over the Somerset Levels and elsewhere in the UK on the telly, it was magical to see one myself, and from our cottage. I hope this will be the first of many.

A starling murmuration. Photo by David Kjaer.

And here is the most wonderful video of a murmuration. Stick with it: it starts with some photos, and then …

Lucky ladies!

We have found the cheapest place to bulk-buy mealworms is Croston Corn Mill: we buy a 12.55 kg (!) bag at a time and pound-per-kilo it seems to work out much cheaper than other places, both physical shops and online. We get through a bag every two weeks or so ….

Rings that remind me of things: Part 13

Part 13 of an occasional series about rings in my Etsy shop that remind me of things.

Ring:

Niels Erik From 1960s rose quartz ring. For sale in my Etsy shop, Inglenookery: click on photo for details.

Thing:

The Quality Street lady. (Bit of a throwback to my childhood Christmases, this one)

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 Gogh, some lichen, and the stepped Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara in Egypt.

Joe Orton, Genius

Today is a sad anniversary: 50 years ago today the playwright Joe Orton was murdered by his lover, Kenneth Halliwell.

Joe Orton in 1967.

I have long been obsessed by Joe Orton. I was a young teenager when I first saw one of his works: the wonderful 1970 film of Entertaining Mr Sloane, based on his 1964 play of the same name. It was dark – blackly dark, and funny as hell, and full of the most joyous and brilliant language.

It spoke to me, even more so when I learned that he was from Leicester, the Midlands city where I lived at the time. From then on, I tried to find out as much as I could about him, to see all his plays and read everything he had written, and that had been written about him. It seemed so cruel that such a wicked, witty and scabrous mind had been taken from us at just 34 – what other wonders would he have created had he not died so young?

Joe in the one-room flat he shared with Kenneth Halliwell in Noel Road, Islington, 1964. (c) The Leicester Mercury.

John Lahr wrote a fantastic biography of Orton, Prick Up Your Ears, which was published in 1978. He later in 1986 published Orton’s diaries in edited form.

This BBC Arena documentary from 1982 is a good introduction to Orton:

A film adaptation of Prick Up Your Ears was released in 1987. Gary Oldman plays Orton, and Alfred Molina plays Halliwell. I can’t think of a better actor at the time than Oldman to capture not only the physical likeness of Orton, but his mischievousness and charm and sexual confidence and humour, all of which are abundantly clear in Orton’s diaries.

I have always felt a connection to Joe, even though he was a gay man and I am a straight woman: I adore his black humour, his sexual innuendos and irreverence, his pomposity pricking and subversion. He is my writer. I was even happier to learn that he had lived for his first two years in Clarendon Park, the same area of Leicester in which I had lived.

Joe Orton.

In 1988 I briefly worked in a bookshop in Leicester, and helped out when the shop hosted an evening with John Lahr, to coincide with the new productions of two of Orton’s lesser-known plays, The Ruffian on the Stair and The Erpingham Camp, at the Haymarket Theatre. He gave a very interesting talk about Joe, and Leonie, Joe’s sister, was there too to answer questions. I took all my Lahr Ortonalia along for the great man to sign: treasured possessions still.

Joe in 1965, photo by Lewis Morley. You can read Morley’s recollections of the photo session during which the photo was taken here.

The publication in 1993 of Kenneth Williams‘ diaries, edited by Russell Davies, gave another wonderful insight into Joe’s life. Lahr had talked to Williams for Prick Up Your Ears, and had been allowed to quote from Williams’ diaries, but the publication of the diaries gave us a much fuller picture of Joe, and his relationship with Halliwell and with Williams.

Joe in 1966. Photo by John Haynes.

If you haven’t discovered Joe Orton yet, I encourage you to dive in, head first. Entertaining Mr Sloane is my favourite play of his, and the film version starring Beryl Reid, Harry Andrews and Peter McEnery captures its anarchic irreverence perfectly.

Joe Orton, 1 January 1933 – 9 August 1967.

Joe Orton website, run by his estate

BBC Radio 4 Front Row half hour special edition on Joe, first broadcast 11 August 2017 and available for download. Features Leonie Orton, Sheila Hancock and John Lahr, among others.