August 7, 2009
Lies and Conspiracies
Is this an omen? Some kind of government plot?
Maybe I shouldn't get too carried away, I might turn into this lady:
March 25, 2009
Robert Millar - Tour de France 1983 Stage 10
I've spent the last week with my nose in Richard Moore's book: In Search of Robert Millar. It's a sad-making life story of the greatest British racing cyclist. I call him that despite a decade following his performances with increasing frustration and disappointment. Moore points out that daily Tour de France TV highlights, on the newcomer Channel 4, only began in 1985, the year after Millar's greatest achievement: King of the Mountains and fourth place in the general classication of the 1984 Tour. After that it was mostly defeats outrageously clutched from the jaws of victory. The Vuelta (Tour of Spain) of 1985, which he utterly dominated, only to lose on the penultimate day through a multi-team conspiracy of Spanish riders and his own team manager's tactical blunders. The 1988 Tour de France stage to Guzet-Neige when, with 500 metres to go, poised on the wheel of the leader and looking certain to sprint for stage victory, both riders misinterpreted a marshall's signal and took a wrong turning.
In highlighting these disappointments, I overlook some oustanding success over 15 years of professional riding, but the truth is, with his massive talent, we longed for him to achieve more than he did. The Cycling Weekly hall of fame is symptomatic. Having published a their 'all-time list of Britsh pro winners', in which Millar was placed only 9th, they devised an alternative ranking scheme with an elaborate points system to place Millar first.
And the reason we feel so passionate about Millar? Cavendish's four stage wins from massed sprints in the 2008 Tour were amazing, but the mountains are where the heroes come out. There is no more glorious sight than a rider who can crack the will of cycling's strongest men over four colossal climbs, then dance away to victory like a flea. Just watch this!
January 29, 2009
Go Down Easy, John Martyn
John Martyn created a music that was all his own: fitting his personality like a pair of worn-in shoes; slavishly-imitated but never matched. In the ramshackle recent years his physical deterioration was sad to watch but the passion in his music never dimmed. Tonight, I'll remember when, with Danny Thompson, he transfixed us in a tent in a rainy field in Cambridge, and most of all this glorious clip. Stick with it for the last ten seconds. Sheer joy in music-making.
September 16, 2007
Appearing Now at the Underachievers Stage
The WOMUD festival this year featured a new 'Under a Tree' stage. With my innate ability to mis-hear public announcements (does anyone else hear that message in Sainsbury's: "cleaner to aisle 8 for a wet spinach") this filtered through to me as the 'Underachievers Stage'. This would make such a perfect venue for many of the great pleasures of our musical lives, we have mentally been booking artists ever since.
First to sign were Pooka, a storm at WOMAD 1993 in Carlyon Bay (a perfect beachside location now sadly lost to development), they signed a big record deal with WEA but never made any waves and folded a few years back. Their masterpiece second album Spinning is mostly available in Amazon's 'used and new' listings.
We are keeping a slot open for Katell Keineg, also with a big WEA album under her belt, the wonderful Jet, and still plugging away but willfully reclusive now. Look out for occasional appearances in tiny London venues such as the 12 Bar Club.
Negotiations are underway for a surprise Friday headliner slot. I can't say too much, but babysitters have been arranged for Harriett Wheeler and David Gavurin.
But I feel we have found our Saturday night headliner for the Underachievers Stage. We spent Friday night auditioning him at the Joiners in Southampton, and I don't think we could ever hope to find a better fit for the ethos we are cultivating: sheer talent held back by unwillingness to conform. For almost twenty years he has been home-producing CDs from a base in the little seaside town of Anstruther, Fife, at the same time nurturing an enviable roster of local artists; the Fence Collective. As befits the monarch of Fence, he is King Creosote. Like a shy hedgehog coming out of cover for a plate of food, he is getting out a little more these days. In 2005 he cut KC Rules OK a kind of Greatest Hits album of songs from his notebook, better recorded and better promoted, it's gorgeous. There are sad songs and very sad songs and some with a modest hint of optimism, all sung in his warbly, tenor, honest, beautiful Fife accent. My favourite is an unrequited ditty that goes like this:
i invested it all; you threw in a dime. it's not good enough. it's not good enough.
i ran half marathons and you ran a mile. it's not good enough. it's not good enough.
you gave up on easter for your vegan chums. it's not good enough.
you gave up on cigars and still you smoke like a lum. it's not good enough. it's not good enough.
i gave up on my liver trying to keep up. it's not good enough. it's not good enough.
i gave up half of my heart and you gave a half-hearted shrug. it's not good enough. it's not good enough.
King Creosote's new album Bombshell came out last week, and it promises to be a breakthrough of sorts. As the boys boasted on Friday, it entered the charts at number 71. I'm eagerly awaiting my copy, having obsessed over KC Rules OK for the whole weekend. I wish KC every success in the world, while hoping that he doesn't get too big for the Underachievers. His song 6-7-8 could be our anthem:
no i never was going to be first out of the stalls
no i never was going to be 6-7-8 feet tall
no i never was going to be signed up big
no i never was going to be dressing up slick
but at the back of my mind i was always hoping i might just get by.
December 31, 2006
It's been very quiet round these parts. Our prolific junior correspondent has flown the nest. You'll find him over at HampshireBirder's Blog.
November 5, 2006
Fruits of our labours
Spent the half-term holiday decorating. Painting from morning till night. However the end result was quite nice. This is before the clutter was reintroduced.
August 6, 2006
Tanzania Diary - Day 10
Day 10 - June 4th
We got up, had breakfast and packed our bags. Whilst packing our bags I saw a Hartlaub's Turaco outside, a species endemic to East Africa. We then went and loaded our bags into the jeep and set off for Arusha National Park with Hermann. All the families except one came on the trip. It took about 40 minutes to get there.
When we arrived the first area we got to was a small clearing known as the mini Serengeti, here we saw a large heard of Buffalo as well as Zebra, Warthog, Giraffe, Augur Buzzard, Egyptian Goose, Grey Heron, Sacred Ibis, Black-headed Heron. Carrying on through the forest we found several Blue Monkeys, a target species for this trip. Also we found 2 very large troops of Baboons sitting, grooming and playing in the road as well as a single Waterbuck.
Then we reached the first wetland area. Birds included Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis and Yellow-billed Stork. Then whilst driving around more lakes we saw White-naped Raven, Cattle Egrets, Great Egrets, African Spoonbills and many more Ibises. Mammals here were mainly Waterbuck and Buffalo with a few Giraffe and Zebra.
Then further on we found a single lake where a juvenile Black-shouldered Kite showed superbly flying around in a falcon like way terrorising the small birds. Also here we saw the most the previously mentioned mammals and birds, Red-knobbed Coot, Cape Teal and Blacksmith Plover. Then we had lunch at a picnic spot. Here we saw a Malachite Sunbird as well as a pair of Little Grebes on the lake below.
After lunch we drove through more forest, here we saw a Grey-headed Kingfisher as well as more Baboons. Then we arrived at another set of lakes, which I presume were salt lakes as there were hundreds of Lesser Flamingos. Also at least 3 Bushbuck were feeding around the edges and a marshy area had several Black-winged Stilts as well as Great and Cattle Egrets, Hadada and Sacred Ibises and Yellow-billed Storks. Then whilst driving past more flamingo filled lakes a Tawny Eagle flew over the jeep and a White-fronted Bee-eater was perched on a post.
The highlight of the drive was yet to come though. We had still not seen our second target species, another type of monkey, despite several sightings of Blue Monkeys. Then as we were driving back to the entrance gate we finally spotted a group of 6 Colobus Monkeys. They were sitting in two trees and were delightful to watch as their long tales dangled down from the branches. But we had to leave or we would miss our flight so reluctantly we left them and set off for the airport.
When we arrived we said goodbye to Hermann and to Maravit who had brought the Dalys, the family who hadn't gone to Arusha NP from the hotel. The flight went smoothly and despite a few delays we arrived in Adis Ababa in the evening. However here the delays we really bad and we were stuck in the airport until past midnight. Then finally, tired, exhausted and relieved we got on the plane and left for England....
July 22, 2006
Tanzania Diary - Day 9
Day 9 - June 3rd
When we got up we had breakfast and then relaxed, as we did not have a game-drive. Then we took down the tents and headed back to Arusha.
The journey was long and slow with the only birds of note being a Black Kite and many Cattle Egrets in the fields. Also the trailer attachment on the adults jeep broke so Arnold, our wonderful cook, had to stay and wait for another Tropical Trails jeep to come and pick it and him up.
When we arrived in Arusha we went to the Tropical Trails office and did some questionaires. We also arranged a trip to Arusha National Park for tommorow when we had a free day. Then we went to the pizza restaraunt next door although the pizza oven was broken so we couldn't have pizza. Also the swing and the hammock broke so it wasn't the safest restaraunt we'd ever been to.
After lunch we drove to the Ilboru Safari Lodge where we were staying our last night and had stayed our first. We then said goodbye to Hermann and Maravit although it wasn't our last goodbye as Hermann was going to be our guide in Arusha NP and Maravit was meeting us at the airport tommorow.
We spent most of that afternoon in the pool before having dinner at the snack bar. Again the group of 3 Glossy Ibis were conspicous, flying over the pool repeatedly and calling during the night.
July 17, 2006
Tanzania Diary - Day 8
Day 8 - June 2nd
We got up early and got ready for our morning game drive. After singing happy birthday to mum who reached old age on this day (sorry mum) we realised that a Buffalo was happily munching grass about 20 metres away from where we were standing! Despite me showing no fear towards Lions and Hyenas around the campsite at Seronera I was rather scared about this Buffalo. I have always felt strange about cows and had previously thought of Buffalos as mindless killers. However this experience made me think differently and I now like Buffalo a lot more.
So we set off and after travelling down the crater descent road we arrived at the gate. We had to wait for a bit because the park doesn't open until 7am. The Ngorongoro Crater National Park is the largest caldera (volcanic crater) in the world covering an area of 256sq km. It is home to nearly all of the mammals of the African savannah but Topi, Giraffe and Impala are not present. Giraffe cannot be seen here because they do not have the ability to get to the bottom of the crater whilst Impala would not be able to find enough food. As for Topi the reason of their absence is not known although there are many theories. Surprisingly many animals do travel up and down the crater and the Wildebeest here are largely migratory. It is an excellent site for Lions and Hyenas as well as being the top stop for Black Rhino in Tanzania with a respectable population of 16 animals in the crater.
The first things we saw were some Buffalo round the edges of the crater. Then Wildebeest, Thompson's Gazelle and Zebra all appeared. Then we got our first sighting of a Hyena followed by a Side-striped Jackal on one side of the road and a Black-backed Jackal on the other.
Then we got to the edge of Lake Magadi, a soda lake similar to Lake Manyara and home to many flamingos. The flamingos were mainly Lesser although we could pick out at least 10 Greaters without looking too far away. Also a group of Grant's Gazelle were beside the lake whilst a few Blacksmith Plovers, Crowned Lapwings and Kittlitz's Plovers were the only waders.
Carrying on we got to a series of pools where we saw Hippo, Elephant, Grey Heron, Madagascar Squacco Heron, Black-headed Heron, Black-winged Stilt, Collared Pratincole, Great Egret, more Flamingos and a Kori Bustard. Then whilst driving around a grassy area we saw large herds of Buffalo and Wildebeest with Zebra, Warthog, Eland and Hartebeest amongst them.
Then more Kori Bustards began to show including one with a chick and a displaying male. At one point I could see 5 at once. Also at least 10 Yellow-throated Sandgrouse were beside the road whilst Kittlitz's and Chestnut-banded Plovers were running around on the road. Then we found a group of about 10 Hyenas in the grass sleeping and playing.
Our main target species then showed up, a Black Rhino. It was very distant although it completed the "Big 5" for us so we were happy. After watching it for a while we carried on and found a Cheetah in long grass. It was elusive and didn't show well so it was good luck when we found 2 more only 15 minutes later.
Then came my highlight of the drive, a Martial Eagle right beside the road with a dead Rabbit. Our next sighting, after careful scrutiny through the binoculars were 2 more distant Black Rhino. Then whilst leaving the park we saw a pair of Crowned Cranes, some Vervet Monkeys and another Black-backed Jackal. Then from the crater ascent road we saw a party of Defassa Waterbuck and another African Hawk-Eagle.
When we got back to camp I saw the Stonechat again as well as the usual White-naped Ravens and Marabous. After having brunch we took down the tents, packed our stuff and headed to the nearby town of Karatu where we were staying the night.
I didn't see any birds on the way to Karatu although as soon as we got there there were Pied Crows everywhere. When we got into the campsite we put up the tents and had a shower. We then went on a tour of Karatu. As well as being followed by an army of schoolchildren we saw a Long-tailed Fiscal and a Variable Sunbird.
That evening Arnold (the cook) cooked us African food. We all enjoyed the meal and at the end a surprise birthday cake was brought out for mum.
July 7, 2006
Tanzania Diary - Day 7
Day 7 - June 1st
It was about 5 in the morning and most of us were awake. The birds were singing but the Wildebeest had moved on. Suddenly everything went quiet. Then a loud barking noise came from very close by. It was a Hyena that had wandered into the campsite. Although we couldn't see it was certainly very close. It stayed for several minutes before moving away and then calling from further away. It was a very exciting experience and one we won't forget.
At about 5:30 we got up and went on our morning game drive - the last that we would do in the Serengeti. The first things we found were a group of Topi near the campsite. Also Impala were numerous in the area as there was much more vegetation here than around Seronera. Then we came up to an enormus herd of Wildebeest and Zebra - it was certainly the biggest we'd seen yet. Further away a single line of Wildebeest stretching for miles were galloping majesticly across the plains. Also around the herd was a Black-shouldered Kite, a Dark-Chanting Goshawk and several Wattled Starlings.
Then we got to the waterhole and saw Hippos, Blacksmith Plover, Crowned Crane and Black-headed Heron. Also a medium sized herd of about 30 Zebra were drinking from the edge. Then we set off to the Masai Kopjes again.
At the Masai Kopjes we got Red-necked Spurfowl, Hartebeest, Kori Bustard, Baboon and 2 Lions. The first Lion was a lone male lying on the top of one of the first Kopjes and the second was a female with a radio collar further on. Driving back towards Seronera we saw many Lilac-breasted Rollers as well as Red-billed Oxpeckers and Helmeted Guineafowl.
We then got to a marshy area where we hadn't really been before and saw many different birds and mammals. Most notable were a pair of Giraffes with 2 young, a group of Elephants, Black-headed Heron, Little Bee-eater, Black Crake and Defassa Waterbuck.
Then the Lions began appearing everywhere. We first saw the mating ones that we'd seen twice before although this time there was only 1 female rather than 2. Then we found 2 in trees about 100m away the each other. Next we saw 2 females on a Kopje and then 1 lying on a log. Finally one was resting in a tree a few hundred metres away from the one on the log.
Then we went to the Serengeti visitor centre and walked around the place and read about the Serengeti. There were lots of Hyrax there and a Bateleur Eagle was soaring overhead amongst an army of Vultures and Marabous.
Next we went back to camp, had lunch and packed up. After our final visit to the pit we set off for our campsite on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater National Park. Driving through Seronera we saw many of the Lions that we had seen earlier and as soon as we got onto the short-grass plains we found another 3 beside the road. Also there were Thompson's and Grant's Gazelles everywhere with a few Hartebeest, Ostrich, Wildebeest and Zebra. Also Crowned Lapwings were numerous, either flying around in the sky or trying to get run over!
When we left the Serengeti and entered the Ngorongoro Conservation area there were still plently of Gazelles in the arid terrain. An African Hawk Eagle was beside the road and a flock of about 10 Olive Pigeons flew off from the road. To help us through the long journey we taught Maravit how to play eye spy so he could join in!
When we got to the campsite I saw a Stonechat of the african race that is black and white on a post by the entrance. Also 3 Marabous were on the grass and at least 5 White-naped Ravens were in the sky, sometimes coming down to the ground. After using the luxurious toilet facilities - at least compared to the Seronera campsite, we had some time to relax before dinner. The adults sat in the building and chatted although the kids played wrestling, some weird game involving trees and murders and petted one of the cats that lived around the campsite.
Then we had pasta again for dinner and went to bed ready for our early morning game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater National Park.