Tags: photographs

Sandman

My LonCon, Part Deux

imageI shared my immediate emotional reaction to LonCon3 a few weeks ago. I think the moment has now passed for blogs about LonCon, but since I seem to shed neurons like other people shed skin cells, if I don't write down some specifics I know it'll get lost forever. For my own reference, then, if no-one else's, here's My LonCon, Part Deux.

We couldn't get a cheap hotel near the venue so stayed in Travelodge London Bank in the middle of London. We originally wanted to stay in a Japanese Coffin Hotel but fancied a smaller room. BOOM. It was bijou, is all I'm saying. Also about as hot as midday on Mercury.

Me and TardisLonCon was about 20 minutes on the Docklands Light Railway, with a change of trains halfway, so that was fine. When we got there the registration queue of which we had heard Terrible Things had vanished. That's the nice thing about arriving after lunch. Pausing only for vital business like chatting to Alison, Nic, Abigail and Emma and standing in front of a Tardis, we jumped straight into our first panel.

imageOver the next three days we didn't get into everything we wanted, but we did pretty well, and a good half of the panels I saw were very stimulating. The other half ranged from pleasant-but-unsurprising to frustratingly stalled discussions. Fortunately the panel I participated in was one of the enjoyable ones. (At least from our perspective. Who knows what the audience made of it.)

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An amazing experience.
Dublin

Easter

Had a great Easter weekend involving no (count it) no work, and lots of relaxing. We had friends over for most of the weekend which was fun.

We did a pseudo-BBQ on Saturday (cooked indoors, eaten outdoors to ensure that Janet didn't get any undercooked meat) which was lovely. We did some potato and tomato 'curry' as a side dish which in no sense is a curry involving only some chopped potatoes, tomatoes and onions fried with mustard seeds, turmeric and coriander. Very nice, very mild.

Then on Sunday the sky was blue and the sun was hot so we pottered around the garden fixing and weeding things while Janet's brother carved a new paddle for his canoe. The cats helped, of course. Here's Charcoal helping:



More helping here. Pixie helped too, but in a more sedentary way.

On Saturday night we watched Doctor Who (what I thought), which included a nice shout out to Tom Baker's first story 'Robot', but was otherwise slightly dull.

On Sunday we also watched Skellig on Sky, in which John Simm continued to be as great as he is in everything not called Doctor Who. I was expecting something slightly twee and cosy, which it was in places, but mostly it was surprisingly honest, real and edgy for a kids drama. A bit low key and moody, but otherwise quite interesting. It's possible that the moral is to talk to scabby-looking strangers, but I'll let that pass...

It's a good job we had the nice weekend because the weather has been relentlessly foggy ever since. Yesterday with sea fret (but we had a nice pub lunch anyway). Today with full-on fog and low cloud extending well inland. Chilly, dank, and gloomy. But at least we had a lovely Easter.

Dublin

Londinium

This weekend we went on a flying visit to London, mainly to see the Babylon exhibit at the British Museum before it closed, but also to cram in a few other things along the way.

We had a chilly but beautiful night time walk around the embankment via the London Eye and Big Ben, a pleasant meal and a glass of Hoegaarden in the White Hart, and Janet got to buy half the stock of Falkiners a lovely little shop selling hand-made paper and bookbinding supplies.

The Babylon exhibit itself was an unusual blend of fact and mythology, including the many artistic interpretations of the Tower of Babel and the Hanging Gardens, but despite a couple of beautiful items it didn't inspire me in the same way that last year's Terracotta Army exhibition did.

If anything we enjoyed the new Egyptian room at the Museum more. The room contains items from the Tomb of Nebamun, including some fantastic and lively wall paintings. This image of a cat is excellent and surprisingly naturalistic.

And of course Janet got to commune with the Rosetta Stone again.

We also booked to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum (the Darwin exhibition was sadly sold out) which showcased some stunning photography that was only enhanced by being displayed on vivid high definition screens rather than prints. Despite allowing people into the exhibition in booked slots it got rather crowded, particularly in the corners, but it was well worth it. Then I queued for 30 minutes to get a cup of coffee while my legs begged for mercy.

The Natural History Museum is one of those places that's always fantastic to visit. The building itelf is so lovely, like a secular cathedral, and is stuffed full of wondrous things. I'd have loved to have stayed longer but the urgent need to fall over won out.

I'm absolutely knackered, but it was a good trip. Photos can be found on my Facebook here.

Dublin

Not enough room to swing a cat

Space Age! Our old hot water tankI do love our old Space Age hot water tank shorn of its cladding. Very steampunk.

We're having our central heating system completely replaced with a new boiler and all new radiators, which involves three days of British Gas engineers under the floor and in and around the house. I've taken holiday and am house-sitting, but unfortunately I'm also having to work. I spent most of yesterday holed up in the bedroom shortlisting CVs for an upcoming vacancy. (I was even in work for ten minutes first thing this morning.) This is becoming increasingly impractical since the engineers are flitting from radiator to radiator and no room in the house is safe! I can't get moved.

They even needed the power off earlier. No computer! I know.

The cats don't know what to make of it. It turns out that once you pull up some floor boards there's a dusty crawl space at least a metre deep under our ground floor, and the idea of one of the cats slithering under there doesn't bear thinking about. They'd never be seen again. Or if they were, I can only imagine the cobweb-strewn Poe-like apparition that would claw its way back into the light.

Yesterday we locked them out of the house, which was fine until it started to drizzle. When the Ringtons tea salesman came to the door Pixie seized the opportunity to dash inside like an indignant bullet train. Naturally she made a bee line for the hole in the floor, and only the presence of a man working inside said hole prevented disaster. Many annoyed mrr-OWWg noises when I scooped her up.

Today we've got them both shut in the bedroom. Unlike Pixie, for whom all this is just a terrible affront to her sovereign feline rights, Charcoal is actively terrified of the engineers and either slinks into a corner with her head near the floor or panics and dashes frantically from room to room (often back and forth between the same two rooms repeatedly) seeking an escape. Poor thing.

Dublin

Bird-brained schemes



You're looking at the inside of the bird box in our garden. The so far uninhabited bird box in our garden, but we're coming up on that time of year when a young bird's thoughts turn to twigs and trying to impress Bill Oddie, so fingers crossed.

Here's the outside:
We invested in a bird box with camera and attached it to the side of our garage, and then I painstakingly laid the cable (just visible on the photo). The set up was very easy - plug and play, essentially. There are audio, video and power leads coming off the camera unit (which can be disconnected at the box end mercifully), and thankfully all three cables (bound with a single coating) run the whole 30 metres so the power can be supplied from within the house. The cable snakes along the garage, around the kitchen, into the house next to our patio doors, and around the wall to our DVD recorder.

(Or nearly all the way to our DVD recorder. The 30m cable sounded like a lot, but when you're hugging the contours of a house it gets eaten up pretty rapidly. At present it has to take a slightly more direct route under our armchair rather than hugging the wall all the way, but I'm sure I can get a bit of extension cable. We thought about wireless ones but internet consensus seems to be that the wireless bird box cams can be a bit flaky, and despite a bit of faffing the only real difficulty I had with this one was getting the cable through the wall and into the house.)

We're really happy with it. We now have a bird box with a live feed that we can watch on the TV and record from. The camera seems to be in focus, shoots colour in the day and infrared when light levels are too low, and has a built-in microphone which has already picked up bird song and the sound of birds hopping around the exterior of the box looking for insects.

We've been meaning to do this for years. We get hordes of birds in our garden and we know they nest all around us in the trees, and even in our rafters. You already get a fantastic view of them feeding from our kitchen window, from where the outside of the new bird box is clearly visible. We just want to go that one step further1.

On the downside it cost us a fair chunk of money. It's this one as endorsed by Simon King. There are many cheaper ones on the market it has to be said! Ultimately we decided that we may as well buy a decent one rather than risk it being poor quality. It also comes with a bird feeder that the camera can slot into if the little buggers persistently refuse to nest...

*waits expectantly for birds to move in*

*drums fingers*

To be honest we've had three sparrow boxes up on the back of the house for over a year now without any sign of habitation, so I have no illusions about how quickly we might get a lodger. On the other hand the new box is well away from the house and several blue tits and coal tits have shown an interest already while foraging, so I'm quite hopeful. Possibly a "room to let" sign next to the bird table might help.

Progress reports will follow as and when we, y'know, have any progress.

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1 Also it gives the cats something to watch on TV. You should have seen Pixie's ears perk up when the sound of twittering started coming from the speakers.

Dublin

Finishing touches

We're having a bit of a minor flurry of DIY at the moment (for some unknown reason...), getting things done around the house we've been meaning to finish for ages. And by ages I mean years.

One is this little bit of wall tiling in the kitchen. Very modest by most standards, but I'm really pleased with the results. The tiles have a lovely rustic feel, complement the terracotta wall colours in the kitchen perfectly, and (crucially) make the area next to the bin and the cat litter tray a lot more resilient/waterproof. Also this is my first foray into tiling, and it's gone pretty well. They're Elios 'Cotto' tiles, for what it's worth.



Also in the above left pic you can see our swanky new spice rack. Made (you may gasp) by sticking three spice racks together and screwing them to the wall. This really is incredibly convenient. These days we use quite a few herbs and spices, and now they're readily to hand rather than stuffed into any and every bit of space on the window ledge.

Dublin

Newts: This Time It's Personal

Our newts are still here. Hurray! The pond froze over very convincingly several times over the last couple of months and I'd begun to fear the worst, but today Janet began cleaning out plants and gunge and general detritus and found both an adult newt and a baby newtlet1.



The little one still has gills but is much bigger than the last ones we saw back in September - at least an inch long now. The older one looks like a Palmate newt, which is the kind we thought we had last year. If it's been in the pond all winter it must be very good at holding its breath and own a thick woolen scarf. Maybe it hid in our woodpile and has just decided to pop into the pond for a quick bath. Who knows.

Janet is extremely pleased. Newts are one of the main reasons we built the pond.
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1 Technical term.

Christmas

O Christmas Tree

By popular request (okay, ajp): our Christmas tree, looking rather more magenta than usual due to a new set of fairy lights this year. As usual it's a smörgåsbord of elements randomly flung together in the hopes that it will all look beautiful in the end. It's nothing special, but I love having all the lights off and just a Christmas tree for illumination.



While I'm at it, here's a picture of our garden taken in the hard frost just before last week's snow. Everything was white, wintry and crisp with several days' worth of frost. This windfallen apple had been feeding the birds for weeks.



Bigger versions behind the click.

Dublin

What a difference a day makes

Yesterday and today.



We went for another walk in our local park this morning, timed cunningly to fall between our early morning snow shower and the inevitable thaw. Although it's fair to say we wuz robbed in the snow department, it still felt marvellously wintery and that's good enough for me. The crows seemed to agree.

Dublin

Season of the Witch

It's that time of year again. Honestly, we have so much fun on Halloween we should be burned as witches1.

Janet's not feeling too grand today and can't leap up and down from the sofa very easily, so I'm taking the lion's share of the callers. The ratio of cute-kids-who-are-really-into-it to sullen-teenagers-in-scream-masks is so far not ideal, but we'll see how things go. The freezing drizzle we've had on and off all day has at least let up, which increases the chances of getting a good range of trick or treaters.

We've nothing to rival Janet's 133t carving skills on last year's pumpkin but the porch is still decked out in an array of pumpkins and scary Halloween tat. This year we've put one of our strange glowy rock things inside the pumpkin, giving it an exciting range of both red *and* green glows. For added scariness. And not having to replace the candle.



There's just about nothing on TV tonight that qualifies as Halloween fare until after midnight, at least not on any channel I could find without an understanding of astronomically large numbers, or a willingness to watch Most Haunted. The mainstream TV channels just don't seem to have caught on to the blatant commercialisation of this festival in recent years. Which is strangely unlike them. I've therefore downloaded obtained via ouija board from the spirit world Nigel Kneale's The Stone Tape, a TV play I've always had a hankering to see and which is out of print so costs slightly more to buy than a large high street bank.

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1 Except, not really.2
2 I'd be a Warlock for a start.3
3 Yes, just like Julian Sands. Seriously, you remember that movie?4
4 Okay, I kinda liked it too but that's not the point. What was the point?5
5 Oh yes, in summary, not to burn us as witches and/or warlocks.