Friday, May 20, 2011

Brain Power


This time of year I am at my busiest. It’s exam time. In addition to my regular part-time work I do a lot of invigilation, managing an exam room with either A-level students or Year 11 sitting their GCSE exams. Sometimes both groups are represented in the hall, even doing up to six or seven different exams, and with different finishing times.

One task of mine is quite obviously to make sure nobody is trying to cheat, but most of the time it is a matter of assisting them in case they run out of paper, pens run dry, noses start to bleed (I have had that!), somebody starts sneezing or coughing desperately, or like just now, a candidate (18 years old!) had forgotten to bring an eraser, so I very quickly lent him one with a nice smile from me and an embarrassed smile from him.

This afternoon there is only a small group, well spread out to give them plenty of space around each individual. The ten candidates in front of me are doing A-level “Advanced Decision Mathematics”, which doesn’t look like maths to me, being more of a linguist. There are hardly any numbers in the questions!

It is absolutely quiet in the hall but for the occasional turning of pages and the constant quiet humming of the big extractor fans, which could easily put me to sleep should I close my eyes.

However I have to be very vigilant, it is after all called invigilation. If the fans were to be turned off I am sure I would be able to hear the candidates' brains producing a similar low-level humming, coming from their collective pulsating brain activity, which might even produce more electricity than one of those much-debated wind turbines.

I hope it doesn’t sound too sentimental, but I cannot help thinking of the importance of these 90 minutes. The number of marks they achieve in their exam might determine whether they get that coveted place at university they have worked so hard for. Presumably I am the only person in this exam hall who is thinking right now about how that could even shape their whole future. All ten candidates seem to be very much on task. Only fifteen minutes left now. I sincerely hope they all have done well.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Where Have All the Birdies Gone?

I am puzzled by a garden mystery. Every time we leave to go on holiday, all the birds who frequent my little feeding station have to fend for themselves once the feeders are empty and the strings with empty green plastic nets are fluttering in the wind.

Depending on how long we have been away, it takes a little while before they are back in numbers. After a 17-day Easter break I expected the return of my feathered friends to begin in earnest after three or four days. But still three weeks after our return there are not that many birds around the food despite the abundance and variety on offer. The spotted woodpeckers come frequently to feast on the fatty balls with seeds in them, the nuthatches swoop down on the nut containers like greased lightning and the blackbirds, who are building a nest in the nearest cherry laurel, are almost residential.

Female blackbird soaking building material (The female blackbird soaking her building material.)

The greenfinches, normally the dominant species, turn up every now and then, but only in small numbers. I have seen great tits and blue tits on the odd occasion. There are normally dozens of birds. Where have they all gone?

I have been through several theories about their unexpected absence:

- Is there something wrong with the food? Hardly, because visiting birds seem to like it.

- Has there been a bird epidemic of some sort? Maybe they have perished for medical reasons? I have no way of finding out.

- Have the many predatory domestic cats caught them? Neighbours’ cats are constantly on the prowl, hiding in the shrubbery to jump on the gullible little birds, but I have not seen any evidence of any mass slaughter like a couple of years ago when I found fifteen carcasses under and around the nearest shrub. Then again, they might of course have run off with them.

- Then there are the squirrels, who normally feed side by side with the birds, but they do squirt a lot to mark their territory (I believe). Does that contain a bird-repelling chemical? They have always squirted, so why now? I don’t think I can blame the squirrels.

- Are they all busy reproducing, nesting or feeding young ones with proper baby food like maggots, worms and juicy, flying insects? Possibly, but surely at least one of the parents would occasionally be free to come to the open bar for a well-deserved, healthy snack?

- So, I have only one theory left; they do not like me anymore. They are finally protesting against the inconsistent supply of that extra nutrition they have come to demand. Please come back, I even promise to top up the water at least twice a day!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Eurovision Song Contest 2011–Duesseldorf

First of all I have to say something about the outing at Blogger for several days. I know my fellow Blogger bloggers have had strange stuff happening to their blogs. For me the odd thing was that I tried to put up a post from the Kappesfest in Rheindahlen, but it took forever before it came up with a message like “no can do”. Then I tried the shorter post I had prepared about the lily, since I thought the many photos in the other post were the problem. No luck there either. So I tried a few times, and all of a sudden the Lily post made it through. So I had to wait a couple of days before the Kappesfest post was finally up.

The oddest of all was that it then was displayed as posted on Tuesday, I guess it must have registered my early attempts somehow. Weird and wonderful world it is, isn’t it, the techie side of things.

Now to a quick proper post about this big European event, (or should that be non-event?,) The European Song Contest, which nobody but Eastern European countries seem to take seriously these days. We just came back from a meal in Duesseldorf where this event kicks off in exactly one minute.

We will be following it from the sofa, commenting on how ludicrous it all really is. Euro pop has earned a very dubious reputation, and there is a certain negative ring to it. However the city was full of life, in particular the old town, where all the revellers were roaming freely, even before it all had started.

As we walked down the central avenue, Koeningsalle, a cacophony of honking horns went slowly past us. German flags were abundant and some young women’s bottoms were precariously balancing on car door frames. I think it was a Ni**an promotion more than anything else.

Euro Dus DSC_2107_20110514_13055 lowrespng

Euro Dus DSC_2112_20110514_13060 lowrespng

Then there were thousands of flags everywhere, in people’s hands, on people’s heads, painted on people’s faces, and also in shop windows, like here. Notice how appropriately the Swedish flag sits between the British and the German ones!

Euro Dus DSC_2115_20110514_13063 lowres png

No, I had better get downstairs and check it all out. I can hear Graham Norton’s voice on BBC now, which most likely will be the most entertaining aspect of the evening. His sarcasms and witty observations will do nicely for me.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Beauty of a Lily

All of a sudden they are just there, so I had to get some good shots of one of the tall lilies standing guard at the front of the house. Close up they are so beautiful, like poetry, like a love song… There’s colour, shape, texture …

There is only one thing I find slightly disturbing, or am I merely being a bit naughty now, but is the lily sticking out its tongue(s) at me with a yellow hedgehog on it?

Lily 01

Lily 02

Lily 03

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Kappesfest Rheindahlen 2011

Last Sunday it was Mothering Sunday in Germany and there was also something going on in one of our little towns nearby. It was called Kappesfest, and I had to look it up in my dictionary to understand the significance of the word. It means [White] Cabbage Holiday! Kappes could also mean [to talk] nonsense, rubbish. What a day, eh? We knew there was a staty of a farmer with three or so different vegetables in front of him, being part of the statue, or should that be called an installation these days? We simply had to investigate.

On our bikes through the countryside we came across some horses with cool shades.

cool horse

When we arrived in the square there was some cooking demo going on up on the big stage in front of a whole square full of beer drinking, wine drinking and sausage etc. eating people.

Cooks Kappesfest Rheindahlen 2011

Otherwise a medieval theme was running through the stalls all around the little town centre, among them a baker who seemed to having done a lot of quality testing of his own products.

Baker Kappesfest Rheindahlen 2011

Some young maidens/ladies needed a rest on the church steps after all their earlier work.

Tired maidens Kappesfest Rheindahlen 2011

In a corner of the main area we came across some birds of prey and their handlers, who let courageous people even hold their feathery friends. You needed more than an oven glove to feel safe!

Merlin 02 Kappesfest Rheindahlen 2011 Merlin 01 Kappesfest Rheindahlen 2011 Merlin 03 Kappesfest Rheindahlen 2011 (Merlin)

The eagle owl was a bit scary and heavy, so nobody took that challenge.

Eagle Owl Kappesfest Rheindahlen 2011 (Eagle Owl)

Then all of a sudden we heard music from the stage and we quickly joined this crowd.

Dance Audience Kappesfest Rheindahlen 2011

What was going on?Jive, jitterbug and rock ’n roll! A group of middle age amateur dancers were getting everybody’s attention with a fiery and energetic display of supple elasticity. They really went for it; arms flying, legs jumping, skirts twirling and some cheeky smiles.

Dance 01 Kappesfest Rheindahlen 2011 Dance 02 Kappesfest Rheindahlen 2011 Dance 03 Kappesfest Rheindahlen 2011

Dance 04 Kappesfest Rheindahlen 2011 Dance 05 Kappesfest Rheindahlen 2011 Dance 06 Kappesfest Rheindahlen 2011

They were having a ball (sorry for the pun) and the audience had a wonderful time, as did we. Many cameras were out, but I was the only one crawling around, ducking to stay out of the way, with a long lens on an SLR, trying to catch the spirit and the agility of the dancers. I have only put up a very few of my photos here, but I hope these reflect what we experienced in Rheindahlen on Sunday. In order to avoid offending people I refrain from displaying some of the more “revealing” images, although they did not seem to mind showing both this and that! Great day out, good fun.

Friday, May 06, 2011

French Garden Beauty

It is almost a month since we arrived at our French retreat to enjoy some tranquility. The garden was peaceful but not quiet; birds were singing, there was a constant humming of insects in the air and the flowers and trees exploded in the hot spring temperatures. The birch developed its little mouse ears into full-sized leaves and the apple tree attracted intense attention from all kinds of insects. Now spring has advanced to these somewhat more northern latitudes in Germany with the same force and energy, so we hope to enjoy a relaxed time in the garden this weekend.

To remind myself and to share with any passing blog surfer, I post these three photographs from Normandy.

DSC_1509_20110410_12474 birch catkin ab        DSC_1500_20110410_12465 hawkweed ab

DSC_1503_20110410_12468 png apple blossom ab

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Back Again After Easter


It’s been a long time since I last blogged. Family business in Sweden first and then Easter Holiday in France are my excuses. (The clock faces courtesy of a shop in Vannes, Brittany.)

When we stay at our holiday home in Normandy we like to go on a mini holiday if time permits and weather is on our side. Although we enjoy the beautiful rural surroundings, often on hour-long walks, …

French countryside, Normandy

… we also like to see something different. Only a couple of hours’ drive away is Brittany with its Celtic heritage and beautiful coastal scenery. We have been many times, but we had not yet been to the south-eastern part around Vannes. So, that’s where we went this time. Isn’t the rocky coast stunning? I wonder what it might look like in the autumnal storms. The power of the sea, the swell with no wind to speak of was impressive enough, just the natural movement of the sea was fascinating.

Cote Sauvage, Brittany

After lunch in a restaurant with the above view (moules frites for me), it was time for some rock walking (didn’t really climb) and photography. There will be more images later, but I want to show you just this one of some sea gulls above the foaming water. They, very conveniently for me, flew into my picture on cue. I have cropped this photo slightly, but otherwise not manipulated it much.

gulls above foaming sea

Most of the time though, we sat in our garden (instead of doing work in it!) enjoying the summer-like temperatures, often in the shade of the lovely laburnum.


I will come back with more later, but this will have to do as my Easter report for now.