Thursday, July 21, 2011

Damn the Weather!

I have had these tickets to go hot air ballooning for two years, and we still have not been able to take off into the skies. The weather never seems to be right; absolutely perfect conditions are apparently required.

So instead I went for a walk with my camera.




Friday, July 15, 2011

Water Music in Gent

Grand pianos are rather expensive. You need to keep them safe, at the right temperature, at the right humidity, stable and also polished to a really high glossy standard. When in Gent the other weekend we came upon this strange boat with a remarkable cargo.

Grand piano on river 1

It was moored at a riverside restaurant, so we assumed it was for entertaining the dinner guests later that evening. We carried on walking down the narrow streets and lanes and were just crossing a bridge when we heard piano music being swept in our direction by the wind. No, it was not “Blowing in the Wind”, but some classical piece. So we looked upstream and saw this surprising scene.

Grand piano on river 2

A man was using his whole body weight in order to steer this, as it turned out to be, Bangladeshi wooden boat. A pianist was assisted by a helper to both keep the sheet music on the stand and to turn the pages at appropriate moments. A woman was sitting next to a man getting ready to jump ashore to moor the vessel.

The pianist was very good and a crowd was gathering on the river bank and on the bridge. Everybody seemed astonished, but all the faces lit up and people were smiling and chatting about this rare musical event.

Grand piano on river 3

The pianist kept on playing while the boat was being moored. But was the woman just decoration? No, all of a sudden she stood up and started singing.

Grand piano on river 4

I do not know who they were, why they were performing in this unusual way, and I did not recognise the music, but it was a nice surprise and very enjoyable. A grand piano and a soprano thrown in for good measure, not bad for a stroll in the old town of Gent. (I wonder how much the insurance was for this musical adventure?)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Heart Is Bigger Than My Brain!

And here is the evidence.

Female Sparrowhawk catching a Juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker

What? you say.

You know that I have a soft spot for the little birds in general, and in my garden in particular, since I attract them with food in order to enjoy watching them and taking photographs of them. In my previous post on Monday I outsmarted the cats, but today my brain short-circuited, it did not perform any better than a lump of jelly.

Alerted by commotion in the garden I looked out from the kitchen window and saw a bird of prey on top of a struggling woodpecker. What did I do? I rushed upstairs for my camera, which had the short standard lens on. I thought there would not be time enough to switch to the 300 mm lens. So I took two pictures from an upstairs window. And here comes the real brain meltdown. Since I saw that the victim was still alive and kicking, literally, I ran down to scare the predator off, hoping it would leave the poor juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker alone on the grass.

When I had come out through the kitchen door on the side, I took only two steps before the Sparrowhawk took off with its load firmly in its grip. (Here ought to follow a long sequence of very offensive words, but I have edited them out before having written them.)

Lessons learnt:

1) Always keep the 300 mm lens on when in house.

2) Preferably keep camera on same floor as oneself.

3) If you think you are a good photographer, think again!

I should of course calmly have taken the 30 seconds it takes to switch lenses, then positioned myself in a suitable window, and I should have put the camera in continuous shooting mode in order to get as many pictures as possible of this rare occasion, a Sparrowhawk tearing its victim apart. I would have had images of strings of bloody flesh being pulled by a natural-born killer. I had a fantastic opportunity to catch a real wildlife situation in my own garden, but my heart took over. How stupid can one get? Keeping cats out is one thing, but you cannot do anything about birds of prey.

Instead I had to resort to looking at the two blurry pictures, consult the bird book to confirm it was a female Sparrowhawk and then curse myself for being so soft-hearted. D’oh!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Killer Instinct!

Killer instinct, but no hunger! Why is it that cats chase birds only to catch and kill, but not eat? I know it is an instinct, they are programmed to do it, but why is the instinct still there when they have no other natural reason to kill? Why kill and not eat? You would have thought that evolution (or is that devolution?) would link those two urges, to eat and kill. Both or none, but that seems not to be the case.

My regular readers know that I feed birds in our garden and have had problems before with killer cats. These days I keep the shrub next to the feeders clear nearest the ground not to give any predators anywhere to hide. But cats are lightning quick when it comes to killing. Birds feeding off the ground are easy prey.

An incident the other week made me take another security step. I was upstairs when I heard a terrifying scream from the garden; I rushed to a window only to see the one we call “Socks”, because of its white paws, carry away a Great Spotted Woodpecker!

Great Spotted Woodpecker

I was down in the garden in a flash, ran after the cat, with the poor bird in its jaws, into the copse behind the garden, only to hear the heart-breaking screaming continue for what seemed an eternity, until it suddenly stopped.

The following day I went to a garden centre and bought some of those green-plastic-coated metal sticks and some wire. I made my own cat (de)fence, with the intention of at least slowing down the furry felines enough for the innocent little birdies to take off and save their lives.

Cat (de)fence

It seems to be working, and the wonderful twist on the story is that the birds now have even more places to sit while they are waiting for a chance to have a nourishing meal.

I feel much better about myself now that I have turned a death trap into a bird sanctuary.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Updating Tom Tom (and Visit to Gent)


If it ain’t broke … That’s why I have not updated my sat nav in the first year, but last week I was booking a hotel in Gent, Belgium (more about that visit later), and before clicking away the last window it asked if I wanted to transfer the address to my Tom Tom. Sounded good, I thought, so I clicked on the button with the familiar icon. But before anything was activated my Tom Tom suggested I update the software. I don’t know why I hit the Yes button, but I did. Then I clicked on a few options that looked useful. Disaster!

When I tried to switch on the trusted guide gadget, it froze. It dawned on me that this was exactly what I had read a lot about on the net. I tried everything, like unplugging and then re-plugging, rebooting … Nothing worked. My next step was to google the issue, which led to many different, possible solutions, all involving complicated instructions about finding obscure files on my PC and to copy lots of stuff back and forth.

Then I remembered that my Windows software had popped up a window saying there was something not quite right with the drive which was the Tom Tom. But I had to close the Tom Tom first, and then the window disappeared, so I had to go to Control Panel and find the Check Disk function, and then activate it to correct what was wrong.

While this was in progress I realised what I had done initially. I had greedily chosen to update parts of the software which I had not paid for when I bought it. So I guessed that must have been what caused the freezing. Once the Tom Tom had been tidied up, I updated only the basic default option, and hey presto, it was again in working order!

I was happy as a child, picked up the Tom Tom, went outside to get a signal, walked up and down the street waving it in the air. I felt a bit silly, especially when the security patrol (I live on a military base!) came past in their pick-up truck. I was so embarrassed that I felt compelled to wave to them with a stupid smile on my face.

Like I mentioned earlier, we went to Gent, and I could certainly have done with the help of my Tom Tom to find the hotel in the old town centre with narrow one-way streets and pedestrianised areas. It was like in the old days, and in the end I had to stop and ask for directions.

The medieval town centre itself was unbelievably picturesque. We had a terrific two-night stay and had excellent food, beer and wine. The place was rather pricey, but not enough to deter us from returning. We actually bought a hotel voucher to get a cheaper stay next time with this particular chain.


Gent 1

Gent 3

Gent 2