Birds · British "stuff" · British Birds · Fitting In · Garden · Home · Life · Musings · Nature · UK · Uncategorized

The Bird Watching Diary

They are coming more often now to the backyard. My part in that being dotting more food stations and water around, and replenishing them more often.  They also seem to be moving more in pairs, showing off in a dance sashaying their wings, and singing in unintended chorus that make mornings so much more beautiful.  I will miss this when I go back soon.  But not to worry, hubby is putting cameras inside the bird houses (we have 2) and I will be able to see how they are growing their families. If I often gripe about how Technology has alienated people from one another, I marvel at how close it has brought us to our animal friends. :)  Note:  Magpies, I learn now, are not just black and white.  They have that electric blue stripe from the edge of  wings to tail.  As if they could get prettier.

“The early bird catches the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”  ~ Willie Nelson

Advertisements
"Britishisms" · Accent · Books · British "stuff" · British Television · British Traits · Entertainment · Expat Dilemmas · Fitting In · Lost In Translation · People · UK

Quiz Love

I love British TV and one of my favorite genres is the quiz-themed.  For me, it is relaxing, and at the same, ironically, provides a chance for me get hyped shouting answers at the telly– cathartic when you’re in a country where you have no friends, family or work colleagues to talk to just any time.  My favorites (in order) are:  University Challenge (BBC), Mastermind (BBC), The Chase (ITV) and Eggheads (BBC).

I began to follow a full season of University Challenge (meaning, start to finish) last year. When I was in the US, I would catch it on delayed run on YouTube. I have also introduced a few American friends to it, and they love it.  Which makes me wonder why Quiz shows are not as big or common on American TV, but anyway.  I digress.  University Challenge got a spike (not just in viewership but in social media buzz) largely because of Canadian Eric Monkman and his team mates Justin Yang (also Canadian), Ben Chaudri (who has made “Nominate Chaudri” a popular byline when you need help with answers) and Paul Cosgrove (he of the bemused smile and closing-bracket sitting position) from Wolfson College, Cambridge.  And also the team from Emmanuel College Cambridge led by Bobby Seagull and his baby-faced teammates.  Monkman’s tight-browed intensity and booming voice is a stark contrast to Seagull’s smiley enthusiasm, but they seem to share an endearing lack of arrogance or self consciousness.  And altho neither team won the Championship — that honor went to Oxford’s Balliol College (led by Joey Goldman) — they came out with their own cult following.  The bromance also produced radio stints and a book  (which I must admit I have yet to get a copy, but I will).

So far this year, the show is at the quarter finals level.  My favorite team is Ulster University — if only because, or maybe precisely because, they are so out-of-the-mold of the teams or winners:

  1.  They are from Northern Ireland (largely under represented in UC)
  2.  Their average age is 50 which makes them often more than twice the average age of their opponents (“You’re never too old!”)
  3.  They are a very good, solid, cohesive and fast team
  4.  They are NOT Oxbridge (to point out the obvious)
  5.  Their spirited, excitable and animated expressions when they get a question right or wrong.

They have that underdog quality that makes you just want to root for them, because they represent the quiet and deadly potential, nay power, of the unexpected.  I really hope they win (they lost to St. John’s Cambridge, but still have another shot) or at least go through to the semis.  Go Ulster!

Books · British "stuff" · British Birds · Chicago · Expat Dilemmas · Fitting In · Gadgets · Garden · Gifts · Life · Nature · Photography · UK · Uncategorized

Bird Watching

When I tell friends in the US about the “British things” I like or do when in the UK, I get reactions like eyes widening (or rolling) or raised eyebrows.  Drives home the reality that my lives on either side of the pond are VERY different, and this oftentimes makes my interests on one side of the pond sound quite incredulous to people on the other.  But I always say “vive de difference” as it is always difference, diversity, even incongruence, in life that makes things inviting and fun.  The latest thing I have developed is (get ready for this) BIRDWATCHING.  In Chicago, I don’t get the chance to see the variety of birds that i can when in our little village in the UK.  I can tell you though that at any one time when I look up the sky in the Windy City, I can see at least 3 planes flying northwestward over Lake Michigan, en route to Ohare International.  Mechanized flying things that roar, not quite as graceful as birds and their songs.  And so I started noticing these feathered friends from those daily look-outs from the window by the kitchen sink here in England, and hearing their tweets and calls.  What a refreshing treat.  Not long after my father-in-law gave us a colored poster of common birds (pull out from a Sunday paper) which piqued my curiosity even more. Add on a day at Caernarfon Castle with the RSPB (Royal Society of the Protection of Birds) selling (and me buying) lapel pins of a host of bird species to raise funds, and the serendipitous £1 find I got from a charity shop (RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds by Simon Harrap) the very next day, and there we have the perfect storm of the birth of a new hobby.

Over Christmas, Hubby bought me a pair of binoculars, specifically, a NIKON PROSTAFF 7s 10×42.  They are not the typical small little things that birdwatchers can thrust into the pockets.  More the type you hang on your neck while you move around. They feel “substantial” — which I like, because they have more the feel that you’re holding a piece of equipment rather than a toy.  The best part of it is that it is lightweight, for all the power it packs in.  IMG_3358

I keep on the window sill the RSPB pocket guide, and a more expansive “Birds of Britain and Europe” by Rob Hume. I like that both books either describe the bird voice/sounds or illustrate their flight pattern.  Both books also provide a cross reference to confusion species or similar species.  I also have a small notebook where I have begun to note down the birds I have seen and where.  For now, I think the most special one I have on the list is the Great-Spotted Woodpecker which honored us with its presence when it came for the bird-feed pellets we have just put out.                                                                                                                            With his bold black wings decorated with little white dots, and a bright red crown and under tail — what a beauty.  We now have 3 feeders in the backyard, and we like to think it has become Blue Tits Central in this little neighborhood.  They fly together, and oftentimes we have finches, blackbirds, chaffinches, robins, starlings, chubby wood pigeons and even the odd pheasants joining in there party.  I am so looking forward to more of these glorious feathered creatures, in number and types, coming over in the spring and summer.

“…I keep looking for one more teacher, only to find that fish learn from the water and birds learn from the sky.” ~ Mark Nepo (author, in “Facing The Lion, Being The Lion, Finding Inner Courage Where It Lives”)

Architecture · Art · Life On The Road · Lincoln · Photography · Travel

Points of Light

I found this post among my drafts from — what? SEVEN? — seven years ago.  Time, that entity with winged-shoes, has flown.  Oh, here it is:

(c) 2010 TenaciousPics. Lincoln Cathedral

These giant candlesticks in Lincoln Cathedral are called the Gilbert’s Pots.  I tried to capture different points of lights (from the stained glass windows, to the candles, the huge basin, the reflection on the ground).  My only regret is that the frame is slightly askew although I’d like to think the imperfection brought about by the tilt adds to the charm.  :)

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. ~ Nelson Mandela


Architecture · Art · Chicago · Kent · Life On The Road · Road Signs · Transportation · Travel · UK · Weather

Tudeley All Saints Church : Inside a Gem

#RochesterKent

A few years ago, I watched a BBC television feature on a little church in Tudeley which housed stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall.  By the end of the program, a visit to All Saints Church Tudeley was in my Bucket List.  So when 3 weeks ago the Hubby had a couple of days’ work with a client down in Rochester (Kent), I grabbed the opportunity to tag along with the goal of striking out to neighboring Tudeley from there.  I planned to go via Tonbridge, about an hour away by train from the Strood station, which was in turn a bus ride and walk from the hotel.  A long-time admirer of Chagall’s works, I have been lucky that 2 of them are within easy viewing for me when in Chicago :  the Four Seasons outdoor mosaic murals (4-sided) at the Chase Plaza entrance to the Dearborn Blue Line station; and of course the America windows at the Art Institute.  All Saints in Tudeley is particularly special because it is the only Church where all (12!) its stained glass windows are works of the Artist.  There is a tragic, heartbreaking story behind the Windows’ commission, but it all turned to good as both Story and Artwork are now immortalized by the collaborative genius of Chagall and glassmaker Charles Marq of Reims.

My trek to All Saints Church Tudeley began with this page, and the “How To Find Us” directions here.  For all the big-time, long-road, open-sky driving that I do in the US, I cannot drive here in the UK (yet). So, from among my available options to get to the Church, I decided to do so by-foot, instead of cab or bus.  That decision came easily enough : The walking directions, which I carefully copied by hand, had described the trek as “delightful”; and I was quickly sold on the lyrical characterization of the landmarks along the way:

“the road rises to the crest of the hills and then descends”

parade of shops”

little black and white lodge” 

green footpath fingerpost”

“charming foot path lane between high sided walls (may be wet underfoot)”

charming wooded dells”

Indeed, a pied it is.  Surely, I thought, there will be a throng of visitors headed the same way from the train station.  That scenic 2.5 mile walk will be dreamy and enjoyable; and it will give me a good 5,000 steps exercise on the walking app (multiplied by 2 if I walked back!).  I also envisioned having interesting exchanges with fellow enthusiasts.  EASY.  Or so I thought.  

I hurled the first of my assumptions out the window as soon as I got off the train.  I should’ve known that a gloomy, chilly, windy Thursday is not exactly the best day for the Chagall Window Enthusiasts sub-set.  Or perhaps any one for that matter.  I found myself walking alone, often bemused if a house or footpath qualifies as “charming” as described in the Directions, and second-guessing what exactly “wooded dells” looked like.  I was a City-Mouse lost in the deep country.  At some point I found myself the only human within sight, often shadowed by that nagging feeling of being followed.  Of course, it turned out that the imagined sound of footsteps or rustling was actually my backpack rubbing against my neoprene jacket.  I walked through lush fields, mountains of molehills, nettles and brambles that whipped at the hems of my jeans.  I wondered where to shelter if the clouds suddenly gave in and poured, and hesitated when a path Y’s out to different paths.  It amuses but doesn’t surprise me, on hindsight, that “The Blair Witch Project” movie was on my mind as I sallied forth.  [Slideshow below to view some of the bits I saw along the way.]:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By the time I finally managed to get the Destination within sight, the clouds have given way and Sun was out full-blast.  I had sweat running down the small of my back.  My ankles were soft and wobbly.  My pedometer indicated that it took Lost and Flat-footed Me a total of 7.1 miles (2 hours +) to do the 2.5 mile walk. :)  I crossed the dusty road to a little village church that looked outwardly plain and unspectacular, curious to see what lies inside.  [Hover mouse over the bottom of each pics below to see my marginal notes!].

As it turned out, the church building’s deceptively unsophisticated exterior was the perfect tension before the BIG WOW.  Pushed open, the main wooden door was the rabbit-hole to a wholly different world.  The plain white walls and exposed beams provided the perfect canvas for Chagall’s masterpieces.   That day, within that smallish space, on a gloriously sunny afternoon, I walked into a magnificent crossfire of light from 12 vibrantly colorful sets of windows, — primarily beaming the Blues of night sky and deep sea, and a couple golden Yellows the color of corn and sunlight.  The Windows framed an eclectic collection of Biblical characters, members of the  D’Avignon family, the Moon, fishes and doves, sea creatures, playful donkeys, mythical birds, the whisper of Chagall’s term of endearment for his wife (“Vava”), and a selfie of the artist himself!

I’ve read somewhere that the experience of Tudeley All Saints Church feels like being inside a jewelry box.  That is an understatement — I felt like being inside the jewel itself, — and a perfect, most sparkling one at that.    Slideshow below : — 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Best of all, I had that wonderful space all to myself for most of the time.  It’s not always like this.  The place gets packed with visitors in the summer apparently.  And so I lingered a bit, savored the quiet and the glow of natural and enhanced lights, and remembered my dad.  How I wish he were still around to hear me blabber about this.  And finally, when it was time to head back, I took the bus.  Exhausted and jelly-legged, thoughtful and happy. :)

VISITING TIPS:

1. Don’t forget to walk into the open Vestry on the west side of the Church (directly opposite the altar).  There is a switch towards the back which lights up the Boscawen Windows (Victorian glass) on the south wall.  These panels were replaced by the last Chagall installations.

IMG_5982

2.  The walking from Tunbridge station is indeed scenic and beautiful.  However if walking through isolated paths is not your thing, make sure you plan ahead and go with a group.  It may not be easy to navigate the Directions on your own.

3.  If you are taking the walk, make sure you pack enough drinking water, your phone is charged or bring back-up power so you can keep in touch if you get lost.  It is quite a long walk, —  with lots of ups and downs and uneven grounds, — and you WILL get lost if it is your first time.  Give yourself enough time allowance, and the cardinal rule:  wear comfortable shoes.

4.  There are interesting and very good publications and postcards on the side of the church.  And a donation box to drop payments and donations.

5.  There is a labyrinth on grounds.  I didn’t see it though.

6.  1.5 miles away is the St. Thomas a Becket Chapel. No longer in active use.  Supposedly has fantastic 13th century painted murals.  It’s still on my list of to-sees.

7.  Bus service to the train station is infrequent — an hour between buses.  And they don’t run late.  The last bus is just past 4:00 p.m., so plan accordingly.  

“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.”
― Marc Chagall

France · Life · Life On The Road · Lost In Translation · love · Short Notes

Lost In Translation, Yet Again

Once in a while the strangest blonde moment creeps up — no offense to the blondes, just using it as a cliche — that truly embarrasses me. We were driving along the dusty backroads of the French countryside (Normandie!) when the Hubby looks skywards sharply, points a finger, and says “Hawk!”.

Me (puzzled and looking up): PORK?  (I swear I heard him say “Pawk”, as in the British pronunciation for “Pork”)

Hubby (even more puzzled): HAWK! Big bird. Hawk!

Me (realizing the absurdity of a high-flying piece of meat, and trying to be cool about the sudden drop of IQ): Oh, HAWK, right. ok.

Hubby: Pork?  Why would I say “Pork”?  I was pointing at the sky….

Me: I don’t know.  That’s what I thought I heard.  But hey, you never know. You know what they say —  “when pigs fly….”

Nonstop shaking of head and laughing between us. You’d think by now these lost-in-translation moments would long have banished.  Oy vey.

Wall Art in Nottingham, UK
Wall Art in Nottingham, UK
Uncategorized

The Right To Bare One’s Arms

This is the day and age of the Selfie Photograph.  Gone are the days when a camera was a major purchase for an entire family; and long forgotten are the time when only professional photographers would have a pretentious tripod on which to perch that precious camera.   Cameras are now everywhere — in our bags, in our person, pockets, integral features of our little army of handheld gadgetry — Do we have phones with cameras?  or are they cameras with a phone feature really?  Cameras are so commonplace that everyone has the capability to document their lives every day, many times over.  We snap away and post the places we visit, the common or unusual sights along the way, the things we eat, the outfits we tried, the outfits we wore.  “OOTD” (a.k.a. “#OOTD, a.k.a. Outfits Of The Day) photos are displayed by stylists, fashionable types, celebrities and trendsetters, —  all the way to those irritating trying-hard wannabes who spew fashion advice as if their readership are idiots who know nothing about dressing themselves (pointless — this is the age of the individual expression and quirks).   And who needs a tripod when you can extend your arms to take that self-portrait, as often as you like and can?

Byproduct of this love affair with the camera is the hand-on-hip (HOH) pose. It has been called the “chicken wing” or the “tea pot”.  This postural affliction that affects women and girls of every age.  A world-wide phenomenon of sorts, strangely enough.  Anytime a camera is trained to take a shot, The Pose is assumed almost instinctively –arm crooked at the elbow to form a small diamond between arm and oblique (chicken wing or teapot handle up).  Needless to say that pose also entails arching one’s back (upwards, and sidewards) to cut and define a clear angle on the waist.  This, I must say, is not a look I really enjoy.  The said “pose”, once the monopoly of fashion models and starlets, has since trickled down to Reality TV stars, the famous-for-being-famous, and now it is EVERYWHERE.  Just look through the Newsfeed of your FaceBook page.  Or possibly, take a look at your own photos.

Per se, I have nothing against The Pose.  I just don’t think it is an entirely flattering stance or look to affect, at any age:

1.  The pose doesn’t look good on little girls or kids.  It’s creepy.  It’s Jon Bennet Ramsey-ish.  It’s just doesn’t look right.  Kids should enjoy their childhood and days of play.  Save the attempts to look saucy or beauty pageants for much later, should they wish.

2.  The pose doesn’t look good on college kids and younger adult women either, especially if they do it ALL THE TIME.  Diane Von Furstenberg once tweeted the advice that the hands on hip look makes one look like a starlet, and not the star.  I couldn’t agree with her more.  The pose just smacks of trying too hard (to be what?  Glamourous? Sexy?  Cool?  Real Housewives of Hollywood-ish?  or just simply “trying too hard”?).

3.  The pose is not a very professional look –unless you’re a fashion model, Paris Hilton, part of a girl band or a reality TV star.  Imagine seeing a shot of your lawyer or your surgeon with that pose all the time. Comfortable with that? I thought not.

4.  The pose is not a very good look for women of a more mature vintage (ha!), either.  I have seen many of that going around.  It can be an amusing look, but let’s face it, it’s not exactly elegant.

Perhaps it is because I think this way that I have never taken to affecting this pose.  In most of my shots, one or both my hands are either in my pocket(s), folded in front of me, or joined behind my back. Awkward poses of the unsure? Perhaps. But that’s how I like it, eversince.

Uncategorized

Reality Check (from city to village)

Over the weekend, the British hubby and I headed out for dinner, not because it was “date night” or anything like that but just because I declared war on any more cooking and dish-washing for the day.  People here in the UK seem to generally dress-up more when going out for dinner compared to Americans.  It’s most likely because eating out here is for the most part luxury (at the very least it is not cheaper than eating at home) rather than for convenience — meaning bone-tired, no desire to wash or cook, let’s head out to the local restaurant.  So when in Rome, bring out the toga.  I made sure I had on killer heels despite the cold, put on a stylish coat and my make up was right.  I have yet to purchase those furry, fake eyelashes British women would have you believe they are born into, but on the whole I was spruced-up and decently ready for a beautiful night out with the hubby.  Shortly after we get on the road, I begin to notice an odd stink in the car.  I began to sniff and look around — trying to figure the source of this funk.  Did the hubby leave yesterday’s lunchbox overnight at the backseat?  Did a rat find it’s way into the car and died?  The hubby noticed my fuss around the car and asked what was going on.

Me :  There is a strange stink in this car and I am trying to find the culprit.

Hubby (very calmly) :  That’s probably the smell of manure fertilizing Farmer’s Geoff’s farm at the back of the house.

Me (with that flash of enlightenment):  Oh yeah.  Manure and a farm.  I forgot about those.

And so the process of reorienting myself to the change in geography and lifestyle continues.  :)

Accent · British Traits · Expat Dilemmas · Fitting In · Life · Life On The Road · Lost In Translation · Shopping · UK

Snippet on Adjusting to Life in the UK

I realize that I haven’t posted in a while; and I am a little half-hearted about jump-starting it with a grumble.  In particular, it will be about (the virtually non-existent) customer service in the UK…. again.  It’s the one thing about  UK life I can’t quite get my head around, just because it’s a puzzle that in a country where everything is about civility, politeness and niceties, very few stores (or “shops”) seem to be able to get it right.

Today I headed into town to run a few errands at the bank and the post office.  Too early for the return train — and yes, I DO have to rush back home as I have a conference call to Chicago by 9:30 Central Time — I decided to go to Debenhams to use up an expiring gift card.  The gift card had a 24-month lifetime, and we got it as a wedding gift 2 years ago.  Hence the urgency to use it before its expiration.  I got a few small things at the home section, and headed up to pay.   Here goes the convo at the till:

Cashier :  Hi, you alright?

Me :  Hi, yes, I’m good how are you (waited for her to scan the 2 items, tell me the total, and then I handed over the gift card)

Cashier :  (peering from the top of her bifocals for some time and swiping it) — Do you know how much money you have on the card?

Me : (slightly surprised why it was up to me to tell her how much was left on the card — she could swipe to find out couldn’t she? — and trying to remember how much I had left on the card).  Hmmmmm…. I’m not too sure.   I think I might have around £120-something on it….

Cashier : (looking back at me)  So, in other words, — you do not know…..

Yup, those were her words  — “so in other words, you do not know….”

I am only slightly amused, but  mostly annoyed at myself, for being thrown off by comments like these, especially when they come with an accent and a nose in the air (literally, as it tried to hold up her bifocals).  I am not too sure whether to react the “American way” of always being right as customer; or to tread the polite line of putting sales staff softly in their place by a slight change in my intonation, the right choice of words, or the just-enough raise of my right eyebrow.  It really is tricky to make that split-second decision to either dare to be yourself and risk awkward attention; or to live as the Romans when in Rome and tone everything way way down.  I just know that each time I come over to the UK, I do not stay long enough to get out of the mode of being the visitor or the outsider, and to know how to deal with situations the way locals do.  But because that is my choice and this is my life, for now all I can do is sigh.  Until I get it right, if they don’t.