Green Woodpecker!!!

I genuinely feel overwhelmed. Something is happening to me. I don’t understand it. I don’t know how this has happened. I don’t know WHERE it’s coming from…how it got here…what it is. 

I hated art class at school because I sucked at it. I couldn’t draw to save my life and by the time I was in my teens, my skills hardly improved from when I was 5 or 6! Well, that is how it felt, anyway. All the other kids seemed to show SOME KIND of advancement in artistic skill. Not I!

And NOW?! Just…WHAT IS THIS? From being not able to draw ANYTHING well to THIS?!!


SOMEONE EXPLAIN IT TO ME, PLEASE?!!! 

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Starling – In Summer Plumage

Very hard to achieve that iridescent gloss they have to their feathers…esp. with what is essentially watercolours…but I am much happier with this one today. Sadly, I seem to actually have BETTER control without the stylus. Ho hum! I’m AMAZED I can do bird eyes so well! Their legs on the other hand… :-/

Practice, practice, practice! And patience! I need patience! I tend to rush too much :-/ I need to calm my sh*t down! Lol

Zoo Days

On Tuesday we went to Whipsnade zoo. The first visit in around 5 years.

We arrived shortly after 10 and were there in time for the first display of the day, the lemur feed. There’s a little bridge connecting where the lemurs spend their days with the area that the keepers use for the feeding display. While all us visitors stand on the bridge, the lemurs bound over for their feed. It was a fun little display and I learned things about lemurs I didn’t know.

(The keeper caught midway through explaining why all the lemurs at the zoo are males)

There was a chimp chat afterwards but we decided against that as there was a group of teenage boys on a school trip there and they headed off for the chimp chat, and we were trying to evade them. Instead we headed for the “Birds of the World” display that would be happening in some 45 minutes time. We meandered about, got psyched out by a VERY protective mara mother of her young bub, caught up with the school boys (shit!) and just generally hung about.

"You looking at me?"

The keepers were late with the bird display as they’d been in Dunstable looking for their missing stork which had flown out of the zoo grounds the previous day. As a result we had a shortened display – they needed to continue their search for the stork as their morning search had not resulted in a find, and this day was VERY windy as well, and the birds they DID display weren’t coping well with the winds. We were shown a tucan, a harrier hawk, two scarlet macaws and one military macaw (who was too scared of going MIA to fly). The scarlet macaws are just SOOOO colourful! And the harrier hawk was just gorgeous. Despite the winds Taltos gave us a wonderful display.

After that we went to the sea lion splash and saw the display by Lara and Bailey. Bailey wasn’t really wanting to perform as she should do and then Lara joined in later on, but they are such lovely creatures and sooo mischievous, you can’t not love them!

After that it was a general wander. We went and saw the tigers, which was quite sad really. Ana, the female tiger, had free range of the whole enclosure but appeared to be waiting for food whilst Mickhail, the HUGE male, was in a small compound having just been given a nice juicy slab of meat to eat (I must say, he didn’t seem that enamoured with it – whilst Ana was salivating away like Pavlov’s dog). After eating the meat, Mickhail just paced, whilst Ana, resigned to the fact that she wasn’t going to get a look-in on the food front went and laid down on the lawn in the middle of the den.

Teddy on the menu?

Nom nom nom. Something looks good says Ana.

From there we went and saw the Asian rhinos, the onagers (which I kept referring to as Oligarchs and giving them Russian accents. Lol), gaur and sloth bears (which was another sad sight as one bear seemed quite institutionalised because although it had access to the whole of its range, it was pacing against the caged wall of the space adjacent to an enclosure).

Asian rhinos drying off after a mud bath.

We then caught the bus to do a loop of the whole zoo before coming back round to stop off in time for the penguin feed before leaving the zoo.

It was doomed from the start. Firstly, we had to change buses after one stop as the bus we joined had banged into something and the upper deck was out of use. Soon after we changed to the other bus I was aware of a wasp being on board – and if you know me you’ll be aware of how my reaction to this would be. I tried to stay calm, and the wasp stayed by the second exit doors, but then it started to fly about and I just WASN’T having it! Thankfully we were approaching a stop – and although it meant I HAD to walk past it, we alighted the bus.

But this took us right back to where we’d joined the bus in the first place. Right back to the opposite end of the zoo. It was 1.45pm and the penguin feed was at 2.30pm. I thought we could make it but we didn’t dilly-dally. Despite this, we didn’t make it. The last time we were at the zoo we missed the penguin feed and I was DETERMINED to see it this time. We walked all the way back round and got as far as the zoo entrance before being resigned to not going to make it. It was nearly 2.30pm by the time we got back to the zoo entrance and it would have been another 10-15 mins walk to get to the penguins. I was EXHAUSTED by this time (we both were), so decided to call it a day 😦

THANK YO WASP! More reasons to why I hate these creatures.

So the visit ended on a bit of an anti-climax sadly. We got some good pics from the bus on the way round and we saw Spike, the male lion, with his harem of ladies far on the hill. He was, literally, king of the hill!

Spike and his harem of lovelies.

You can see more photos by going to my Picasa page HERE

All the videos are available to view on a YouTube playlist HERE

Willie In The Snow

Get your mind out of the gutter! I mean Willie WAGTAIL! 🙂

The Noughties (for Fun Monday)

This weeks Fun Monday task was to go back over the personal highs and lows of the noughties. I thought it a good opportunity to reflect on a decade so decided to take part. So here are my personal highs and lows of the last 9 years, eleven months and several days…

The Highs:

* Getting Chrissy in 2000.

She has been one of the best things in the last decade. I needed to have a “substantial” pet. Prior to getting her we had a budgie called Dusty. Although he was lovely bird, a bird hardly equates to a cat. I had a cat in Australia, Tiger and she was my first cat, at 21 years of age, so to find myself without a cat several years later was a bit much to take. But along came Chrissy and all was fine. She’s just had her 10th birthday and I love her more than ever (even though she can drive me up the wall!).

* Home visits to Oz in 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2007.

Living 12,000 miles away from where I grew up hasn’t been easy at times but regular home visits have helped greatly over the years. I know I’ve been lucky. I’ve had the opportunity to go home five times in the last 10 years and every visit has meant so much. As my mum gets older, the visits have felt more imperative. With the last two visits I was able to stay for several months. It has meant everything to have been able to go home so regularly.

* Winter Christmases and Guy Fawkes/ Halloween fireworks.

When growing up I was always jealous of two things. One, to do with my birthday falling on Halloween (not much significance in Australia when I was growing). The other, to do with the northern hemisphere ideal of a white, wintry Christmas. Well my first year living in the UK both of these jealousies were abated.

I experienced my first “significant” Halloween with a mini celebration at a theme park (it wasn’t good, but the idea of it was). I also experienced Guy Fawkes (bonfire night) for the first time and realised that I could orchestrate the notion of fireworks into my birthday celebrations. Guy Fawkes and Halloween sort of blend into one another here, being less than one week apart. So it’s nice to have the excuse of believing I have fireworks for my birthday 🙂

My first Christmas although not white on the day was very much the northern hemisphere ideal. Cold weather, logs on the fire, lots of food, turkey and the trimmings. Christmas television specials. Two days later there was snow. A good dusting. Crunchy under foot and really cold. I adored it! My first experience of snow. It was heaven!

* Doctor Who returns to television and the discovery of David Tennant.

I was never into Doctor Who when I was growing up. I tried to watch it several times, but could never really take it in. I found it boring. There were things that stood in the way of it ever making a dent on me. It was aired on the ABC (the Australian equivalent of the BBC), which for all us kids equated to naffness and boredom. The only thing we ever watched on the ABC was Countdown (not the Channel 4 quiz show, but a sort of Australian version of Top of the Pops, more or less). Production values of the show itself let it down for me personally as well. It just did not visually appeal to me. Not when there were better sets and more believable looking aliens on an episode of Star Trek, which was, by the time I was trying to watch Doctor Who, some 18 years in the past. There was no way a poor quality British sci-fi programme could ever compete with anything coming from the U.S.

But then it all changed in 2004. Excitement reined as the talk began of a brand new series of Doctor Who being aired on the BBC. The series was shelved in 1989 and there were many Whovians wanting it back on screen. Their wishes were granted.

In 2005 Doctor Who, the new series, began. I felt it was finally an opportunity to see a way in to start watching it. I’ve been (mostly) hooked ever since. I saw most of the 2005 series until I was off to Oz that year. There were a few “let down” episodes. Certainly not in special effects these days, but plot/script let downs. I didn’t really see the series finale as it went to air due to being in Oz. I saw it later and then wasn’t sure I wanted to stick with it. It was reported in the early days that Christopher Eccelston was only going to do one series. I’d enjoyed his doctor greatly and was worried I wouldn’t take to this David Tennant guy (who the hell was he anyway?). But I persevered. I didn’t really like DT at first. The only thing that kept me watching was Billie Piper. Then when it was revealed she’d be leaving the show too, I was starting to not have a great deal of sense in continuing. A couple of turkey episodes towards the end of the series two finale and I was no longer watching.

By the beginning of the 2007 series, I was back in Oz. Em was watching and said it was certainly improving. Billie Piper’s replacement Freema Agymen was good in her role as Martha Jones and something about DT’s performance had improved as well. She sent me over episodes to watch while I was in Oz and I slowly started to get hooked again. By the time I was back home and viewed the series three finale, I was back to where I was at the beginning.

Series four was the best yet. The partnership of DT with Catherine Tate was brilliant. I had my doubts about it at first, as I didn’t really think much of the Christmas special The Runaway Bride in which Catherine Tate had starred.

During series four I had a dream. I was in Oz, telling my sister-in-law how hot I thought David Tennant was! I’d never actually HAD that notion in my head before. I knew there were lots of ladies/girls who thought he was “hot diggety” but I wasn’t one of them. Not until that night anyway! I woke that morning thinking “OMG, yes. He is HOT, isn’t he?” And I’ve been a total DT fangirl ever since. I’ve seen just about every other piece of acting work he’s ever done.

Of course, the noughties end with the culmination of DT’s time as the Doctor. New Year’s Day sees the last episode of Doctor Ten and the end of DT’s rein (where ARE the Kleenex?).

* Getting into bird-watching and the birds “saving” me.

In 2006, around the spring, I went into a deep depression. I saw absolutely no purpose to life whatsoever. I found myself questioning my reason for being here and was frequently coming up short of answers (obviously there are none as my final conclusion theorised). I’d wake up, then stare out the bedroom window wondering why I was awake. The only thing(s) that helped me through were birds. I’d watch them in the tree, on the feeders, on the ground, flying by, thinking “what a life, eh?”. I was envious of them and loved watching them get up their bird antics. I bought a book on bird-feeding and read through it and started to try and memorise all the species I’d see in the garden, learn about them as a species and try and get to know individual birds that visited. Very hard to do with birds like robins, blue tits and goldfinches as they are uniformly similar. I shall talk of them more when it comes to the tree chopping. But their role in helping me with my depression was no small one, so thank you all my little feathered friends.

* Our 10th Wedding Anniversary in 2008.

March 21st, 2008 brought in our 10th wedding anniversary. We went on a few days break, as is tradition with most our other anniversaries. We went to Leicester (it was killing two birds with one stone) and then to Birmingham. I’d bought tickets for us to see U2:3D at the Imax cinema there. It wasn’t the “trip of a lifetime” or anything, but there were elements that made it very special.

* Going bankrupt in 2008.

It was traumatic, no doubt. But there was a positive element to it. It meant we were now debt free. The thing that kept drowning us was the fact we were in so much debt, had so little money and therefore just kept on getting into more and more debt, propping ourselves up. With the debt off our backs, for the first time in years we’ve been able to regulate our finances properly. It’s been heaven.

The Lows:

* Em’s job loss and mental illness 2001-present.

I don’t want to dwell on this too much. Obviously you don’t want to spend too much time on the “lows” of the decade (well I don’t) so I’ll keep it brief. Em was working at a school as the Network Manager and was suffering from anxiety. The job was stressing her out. Long days and little holidays, stupid teachers and other staff with no I.T. skills, destructive students and the endless churn of “fixing” Windoze machines made the job never-ending. She suffered a breakdown over the Christmas holiday of 2001/2002 and was reluctant to go back to work until she felt better.

Under pressure to return to work and not feeling able, Em resigned her position in April 2002. I suppose it left her free to be home with me while I recovered from my whooping cough…

Illness overwhelmed her. She tried to look for work, but it was obvious the school’s head had a vendetta against Em. It culminated in Em being offered a position at a school in Harpenden that was mysteriously retracted 48 hours later.

And if you don’t mind, I’ll leave that there. Suffice it to say that recovery is slow and in some respects still ongoing. Full recovery might never come to fruition.

* My Whooping Cough in 2002.

It was Valentine’s Day, 2002. We were in Bristol. There was a production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on at the Hippodrome and I *HAD* to go and see it. It was VERY cold at the time (Obviously! It was the middle of Feb.) and I had got a little snuffly and had a tickling throat. I remember coughing quite a bit during the performance, feeling self-conscious.

Over the next few days, I got progressively worse. I went to the doctors and was told I had a chest infection. I was having difficulty breathing and was coughing almost constantly. My throat felt constantly ticklish and after a while I could no longer lay down. I had to stay seated. Then I was starting to cough so much I lose my breath. It was SO scary. We had booked tickets at the end of 2001 to go to Oz in March. The time was getting close. Oz was just a week away.

I went to the doctors again. Still diagnosed with chest infection. Antibiotics were prescribed. I couldn’t keep them down. I was having coughing attacks several times an hour. I kept purging up clear liquid. It wasn’t vomit. I couldn’t eat or drink anything. I was surviving on ONE bowl of cereal a day and water. I couldn’t drink anything else, it would induce a coughing spell, as did eating. Any medication I tried to take came back up instantly. If I sneezed, I had an attack. If I tried to lay down, I had an attack. If I laughed, I had an attack. I was SO worried I was going to stop breathing and die. I was scared witless. Not being able to breath is the SCARIEST thing.

I couldn’t back out of going to Oz. We’d lose the money from buying the tickets. I wasn’t going to miss going. I was as sick as a dog.

I lasted the plane journey. I was couching SO much. I’m sure other passengers were FREAKING out at how much I was coughing. I managed to sleep quite a bit, for a change, not being able to recline very well in an economy seat was a bonus. We got to my mums house and I looked like death. Nights were spent “sleeping” upright on her lounge. Then about 3-4 days into our stay, I had a massive coughing attack, stopped breathing and loss consciousness on my mums kitchen floor.

I went to my mums doctor the next day. Had the first blood test I’d ever had in my life. He suspected I had whooping cough. Whooping cough? Only babies get that, don’t they? I was thinking to myself. Well, seemingly not, because the blood test confirmed that was exactly what I had! It certainly explained why I was coughing so much and my loss of breath. God knows how much longer it would have stayed undiagnosed if I’d kept going to my UK doctor.

Mum’s doc said it was beyond the point of treatment, that it would ride itself out from this point. I was given steroids and asthma inhalers to help speed up my recovery. By the time we were leaving Oz I was starting to feel better. I was finding breathing easier and the coughing was slowly subsiding.

After a couple more weeks I was able to go back to bed properly (IE: start laying down to sleep again). I still had attacks, but they were more spasmodic and spurred on by trying to eat something that I wasn’t quite ready for, sneezing or laughing. It took me MONTHS to be able to sneeze or laugh without inducing a coughing spell. It was about 9 months before I had my first proper belly laugh that didn’t make me cough.

It was a long recovery process and a very scary illness. I’d never want to go through that ever again!

* Moving house in 2003 into a one-bedroom “rabbit hutch”.

We loved living at Birchen Grove. It was the first place I’d moved into since leaving home. Despite some hassles with the place like extremely cold winters due to archaic Economy 7 heating (heating that only goes on overnight that can’t be turned on again during the day), a busy road where there was nowhere to park (bound to happen on road full of maisonettes), a tiny kitchen that was a bit useless and useless secondary double-glazed windows, the positives outweighed them.

It was affordable rent-wise, it was a two-bedroom place (plenty of space for us), the road WAS busy but filled with a sense of community, we were closer to the town centre and to Em’s parents.

Then in the early summer of 2003, we were asked to move. The landlord wanted to sell and we’d have until the end of our latest tenancy agreement (mid August) to move. One upside to agreeing was we got our deposit back (which we REALLY needed to even afford a move). The downside was because we were “dossers” we didn’t have much choice on what we could look at. Rental prices had shot up in the time we were at Birchen Grove. Our rent at the time was £360 a month and while searching we weren’t finding anything similar under £475.

Then we looked at this place which, while empty, looked spacious despite only being one bedroom. The rent was £500 a month, which was a BIG difference to us. We were downsizing space, but paying MORE for the privilege. It hardly made sense. Thank goodness in the six years we’ve lived here we’ve not had ONE rent increase.

It wasn’t until a few weeks after we moved in really it hit us just how SMALL this place is. We still have boxes of things at Em’s parents place that we have just never had the room to bring round. It went from “nice place” to “depressing rabbit-hutch” within about 3 weeks. I dealt with it okay, initially, but Em was like a caged animal in it from the start.

It now depresses us both to hell, but it does have a few positives. The utilities are cheap…erm…erm…that’s about it. Oh, we live by the countryside and get bats and hedgehogs! That’s good 🙂

* My depression in 2006.

Eluded to with the birds entry. 2006 was a struggle for me. I didn’t think I’d see the other side of it. I was so low. It’s not something I really want to go into much more detail about. Suffice it to say it happened and I got out the other side. I really don’t know how I got out of it. I went to Oz in early 2007 with it still looming over me. Perhaps the distractions of being back in Oz helped me get over it. It certainly wasn’t Oz itself that took it away.

* Going bankrupt in 2008.

It was frightening but it needed to be done. I never knew until we did it that you need MONEY to go bankrupt! You have to pay a court fee of £375 – EACH. We got a discount for going bankrupt together though (!), but it only saved us 100 pounds. I say “us” but we were SO skint we had to borrow the money to go bankrupt. Life is just sick!

It was a very stressing several weeks for us to get all the paperwork in place, show up in court and get the thing done. But to put rest to the amount of debt we’d accumulated, particularly within the last two years before going bankrupt, was heaven sent.

* Mozzy’s health problems 2009.

During the summer, Em’s mum Mozzy suffered a mild cardiac arrest. She was hospitalised for a week, had various tests performed on her and was sent home with more medication than she’s ever had to take in the rest of her life combined.

She’s also suffering from Alzheimer’s which is getting progressively worse.

* The tree being chopped down 2009.

It really was like losing a friend. I was in mourning. I knew all the birds that visit would leave. They all loved the tree so much. It was their little safe haven between feeds at the feeder station. It brought in robins, dunnocks, blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, even a jay once! My favourite birds it helped to attract were Mr and Mrs B, a male and female blackbird. They were our resident birds. We’d see them most days. “Blackbirds all look the same”, I hear you say, “how could you tell they were yours?” Well, here’s the thing you see. I can’t be sure about Mrs B, because she had no distinguishing features, but she was always with Mr B – who DID have. He had a white spot on his left wing. He was all black, apart from this white fleck, so I always knew it was him.

They were a funny couple and earlier this year they had chicks. I could see both of them frantically looking one day for one of their little youngsters. They were good parents and reared two little ones that were visiting the garden in the summer. It was the last hurrah. Now the tree is gone we have hardly a visit. Mr and Mrs B left altogether. No more blue tits. I’ve seen a robin on the odd occasion, but they never stay. Although the feeders are still in place and well stocked, without the tree, our garden hasn’t the enticement it used to. We still get the odd goldfinch or two, but again the visits are fleeting. The only birds that continue to come here are wood pigeons. And they went through the most heartache as one of the neighbours took down their conifers and the pigeons used them for sanctuary. Lost pigeons flew around the rooftops for days after, wondering where their houses went. It was awful. I miss all my little feathered friends.

R.I.P Tree

A photo slideshow montage of my noughties highs and lows.

Duck Tales (The Movie).

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It’s just gone 2.45am and I have just been outside (around 30 mins ago) to see a duck in the middle of our street. Yes, that’s right, you read correctly – A DUCK!

Just after 2am I went to the toilet and on my return, thought I’d look out the bedroom window to see if I could see any hedgehogs in the garden. Couldn’t really see anything as the window was steamed up with condensation, so I wiped it, had a quick peek at the grass and saw nothing. I then did a quick sweep of the surroundings – the houses beyond, the street…

Talking to myself: “WHAT is that??? It looks like a bird…it CAN’T be, it’s 2.10am!!! But it bloody well is a bird.”

“Em…Em…I can see a bird on the road. It’s a duck! On the road…just sitting there!!”, I’m saying to her. She groggily gets up and has a look. “Yes, it does look like a duck.”

I said to her “Oh this is TOO good. I’ve GOT to see this”, and went outside for a better look.

He was just there, starting to get a bit spooked by our presence, waddling slowly away from us down the road. Em went back in to get some bread for him.

The sound of tawny owls were piercing the otherwise eerily quiet night. I wanted to stand there and listen to them, their call is so haunting and fantastic. I rarely get a treat like that for my efforts, so it was a lovely bonus.

Anyway, here’s a little video of “Donald”.