An Irish Worldcon

My 50th birthday was two days before we flew to Dublin 2019. I was juggling work, family, artwork commission, a presentation, fitting artwork into luggage, and the endless production line of convention signage. I barely had time to breathe, let alone anticipate it.

And then we went. And it was amazing.

So many good things happened to me personally at this convention, but also so many good things happened to other people. Or just happened. I had a small, personal moment of bliss strolling on my own through the dealers’ room and being briefly overwhelmed by the sense of good-natured community in all the people who thronged the room. Worldcon is the kind of place where you can strike up a random conversation in a queue and immediately find you have interests in common. (Which is lucky as there was a lot of queueing). Or look around and just enjoy people in cosplay; or geeky t-shirts whose obscure references you get, or don’t; or the random dragon wandering around the concourse; or the lady in the butterfly dress who donated a butterfly to our daughters; or the cheerful cyberpunk madman who took it upon himself to wrangle the queues.

It’s hard to convey the worlds within worlds. At any given moment there are at least 8 other things you could (and probably should) be doing instead. It should be stressful, but is more often like drifting in a warm bath of opportunities, each as appealing as the next, so that missing any one thing feels like a minor irrelevance.

One such opportunity was the workshop for the Belter creole language used in The Expanse (originally from the books but developed and codified in the TV show). I’ve done fan art of The Expanse, and this was a little jewel of a session, a crash course in another language (an invented one) delivered entirely in character in ‘Lang Belta’ by Hanne-Madeleine (Iro) Gates Paine and Kagan MacTane (@Paine_MacTane), with plenty of funny (and only mildly terrifying) audience participation. The two presenters even spoke to each other and cursed their computer in character. We visited them in the bar afterwards and got our names translated into Belter (Iyeng Kelarek and Dzhanet Kelarek if you’re interested). Such an unexpected joy.

Although I did the covers for the Souvenir Book and the Pocket Guide as well as lots of promo artwork ahead of the convention, this was my first time actually exhibiting original artwork (in the Art Show over at the second venue The Point, a slightly inconvenient 10 minute walk or tram ride from the CCD). I arrived on Thursday afternoon just after the show opened which was fairly flustering, but I had a lot of help getting set up from Janet, Niall, Nic and others. Not only did I sell lots of prints, I sold three original paintings/drawings, which frankly was more than I dared hope. (So much so that I’ve opened an Etsy shop on my return!) More than that, admiring all the other art, being part of that group of fellow artists, and even having a fascinating panel discussion with a few of them (Maeve Clancy, Rob Carlos and Kaja Foglio), was hugely fulfilling.

My wife Janet also had a display over at The Point featuring her Bayeux Tapestry recreation plus Tardis, hand-stitched at the original size using authentic techniques. It’s a shame that the full-size Tardis wasn’t able to be on display as planned, which might have helped more people find it! However she got lots of well-deserved praise for it; it’s wonderful.

The convention staff were also incredibly helpful and gracious. I was touched and honoured to be one of those who got a “Dublin 2019 Hero” medal (from Chair James Bacon and Sara Felix) for all the artwork I contributed – all the more so because so many volunteers gave selflessly of their time in the run up to the convention, and also during it. I felt quite lazy for taking the convention off! Incredibly flattering things like this kept happening throughout the con, like being unexpectedly ask to sign a batch of prints of my art work. (Ten minutes of giggling inwardly and pretending to be Neil Gaiman). Just walking around seeing my art on t-shirts, on covers, on Glasgow in 2024 materials was absolutely lovely. My lanyard said “Convention Artist in Residence” which is both a) untrue, and b) absolutely lovely.

Another personal highlight (and cause of giggling) was walking into the Philharmonic concert and seeing my Kraken image on the big screen with the addition of musical notes (Vincent Doherty’s idea, I later learned!) This was the first piece I ever did for the convention, back in 2014 when my friend Emma England asked me to contribute some art (and thank heaven she did). In all that time I never once imagined that the Kraken was playing the Samuel Beckett bridge like a harp. And yet it clearly is. So funny.

I also got a lovely note on my art show display from someone wanting to turn one of my paintings into a costume design (how great is that?) Someone else wants to make a quilt inspired by my Green Woman image. [Edit: This was Constanze and you can see her amazing progress here.]

Lots of people worked harder than me and contributed more than me at this convention, but I feel astoundingly lucky to have been a part of this fantastic event. To have been seen, to have been thanked, to have seen and thanked others in return.

The other other thread of the event was that we got to catch up with many friends in Dublin, and share an exorbitantly priced meal (whose bill is still being worked out to this day). Janet and I also snuck time in our schedules to visit the Book of Kells and The Long Room at Trinity College (it was booked out online but we turned up at opening time and they were still selling tickets at the door). This visit was another small, spiritual moment for me. Particularly the architecturally astounding Long Room, which is as close to a cathedral of knowledge as you’ll ever see (even if rather male-dominated). I’m not religious but it felt sacred and quite moving. And also fantastical, like an intrusion into our reality from a world made of story.

On the very last day of the convention I did the solo presentation about my art that I had foolishly agreed to do when Sara asked me a few weeks earlier. I barely had any time to write this before the convention and certainly hadn’t managed to do a run through. I was still inserting slides the day before! In the event I wasn’t too nervous. This was probably helped by the fact that although the venue was an Odeon cinema screen and therefore huge, there were only 7 people in the audience — including my wife, and our friend Niall who HEROICALLY came to see me despite having been up all night at the Hugo Losers party. This was still more people that I was banking on for a no-name artist in the graveyard slot on the last day. I focused on several milestone bits of art and on my development over the 4 or 5 years leading up to the con (although as Niall pointed out my narrative sort of falters at the point where I go “and then I decided to do a full painting, so I did”.)

So that was Dublin 2019. Or a tiny slice of one person’s experience of it. I didn’t even mention the Masquerade – part costume competition, part performance art – which is so deliciously mad and wonderful that it makes me happy it exists, even if I will never fully understand it. Or the touching closing ceremony. Or the “Glasgow in 2024” party with whisky and Tunnocks teacakes. Or Jeanette Ng’s firebrand speech at the Hugos. Or learning to use Whatsapp like some kind of young person. Or meeting Jim Fitzpatrick who did the iconic Che Guevara image. Or queueing in driving horizontal rain for Hugo Award Ceremony tickets with Janet and Liz.

And now I’m back, and working on artwork for the Glasgow in 2024 bid (by which time our daughters may even be old enough to come with us – Ulp!) and opening a new Facebook page and an Etsy shop and trying to hold onto some small part of the creative positivity I experienced in Dublin.

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.)

Friday 15th August

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

1 Technical term.

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.

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.


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.

Smaller on the inside

Continuing my attempts to make myself look prehistoric by wallowing in Doctor Who nostalgia from the 1970s, here’s a fantastic little tin that my Mum brought over recently (in her continued attempts to rid the house of all our old tat…)

Click for bigger versions and just admire the time and care that’s gone into crafting this jewel in the crown of merchandising. I’m thinking the illustration alone must have demanded at least half an hour and a tube of Pritt Stick.

Here’s the bit they would look at on Antiques Roadshow to confirm its provenance:

Apparently BBC Enterprises took the bold decision not to disown it. I do have a nostalgic fondness for the old girl, though.

Newts: The Next Generation

It had been a while since we’d seen any newts in our pond, having at one stage counted nine newts swimming around simultaneously. We’d more or less decided that the newts had left the pond, as newts are (so they tell me) wont to do.

Then, on the very day my wife declared that if we didn’t see a newt she’d give up, we found the tiniest of tiny baby newts (okay, larvae). And then two more. These really are small: only just over a centimetre long, about the size of a 1p coin. They have little gills and four tiny legs. Awww.

I’ve no idea how many others there may be lurking in the depths of our small pond, or what the chances of them surviving are, but this is a very cool discovery.

Making books

My wife just made some books. Actual books. To me, this is a little bit as if she built a new television set. It’s sort of like magic.

Essentially the magicprocess goes as follows. The paper is folded, then hand-stitched into groups of pages called signatures.

These separately stitched signatures are bound into essentially the inside of a book.

Then there’s a cardboard cover, in three parts so as to give it a flexible spine.

This is rounded to make a proper book shape. Here are three raw books.

Then the whole assemblage is glued together. Extra sheets link the cover to the inner pages, the cover is coated in book cloth/paper, and a cover design paper is glued over the top. Et voila! Three finished books

The end result is a little blank notebook that, frankly, I’d have a hard time telling apart from one bought in a shop. And all this from nothing but paper, cardboard, fabric and glue. How cool is that?

EDIT: And here’s an open book, so to speak.

Pond Life

Last year we built a pond. The construction process was fairly arduous for a soft northern shite like my good self. (There are various other pictures from the construction process here.)

One year on, I’m really pleased with the way it’s naturalised in, something that owes a great deal to my wife planting lots of things, and very little to me watching her plant lots of things.

Pond pictures

Further adventures in crafting

My wife’s been busy making crafty things again. As you know she’s a tireless explorer of different craft projects and gets through more in one weekend than I get done in your average month. This time around she’s turning her hand to wire bracelet making, and as usual she’s invested in a range of books, equipment and tools. She’s only made a few so far, but this is the one she’s most pleased with:

This one is copper wire shaped around a wooden mandrel, bound at intervals, with beads threaded on to make the pattern. As usual I’m very impressed. The other fruits of her labours can be seen here. She’s already taken an order from someone at work to do some more! I think Janet pretty much has a good time with everything she tries, but she’s particularly enjoying the bracelet making at the moment.

For those of you not interested in craftwork, here is a cute snoring three-legged cat:

Mwah ha ha ha ha ha

Inspired by ajr and my need to impose order on our sprawling Heap o’ Books, as previously detailed here, we went out this week and bought the tallest bookshelves IKEA had to offer, then bought the extra bits that made them taller, then bought extra shelves for them.

This weekend we de-stacked all the books, dismantled the old bookcases, assembled the new ones and (a first for me) attached them to the wall so they can’t fall over and crush us.

Before

Garden Safari

Lots of wildlife in our garden still. Here are a few pictures (which also link to bigger versions on my Facebook.)

Swift

Our Swift is nesting again in the eaves of our house, or at least has been making exploratory visits. The entrance to the nest is the tiny black square just to the right of the red lintel over the window. I snapped this picture quickly so it’s a little blurry but I’m quite pleased with it. Its black belly marks it out as a Swift rather than a House Martin.

Newt

Even Craftier

My wife has been crafting again. This time it’s one of her long-running projects that she’s finally finished in a sudden turn of speed, plus some glass jewellery.

She’s been making a few sets of wooden drawers for a while now, and this is the original practice piece made from pine which after many, many hours of sanding now opens and closes without sticking. At one stage I did wonder whether Janet’s hand would fall off before the box was completed. With a little Danish Oil it looks lovely. She wasn’t going to bother finishing this because it was just a test piece and she’s not overly fond of pine as a material, but I think it’s turned out really well.

Glass Jewellery too

The Birds

Our garden has been invaded by Starlings. More precisely, several local Starlings seem to have done very well this year and had large broods, so the Dawn Chorus has been transformed into the Dawn Squawk, and our garden is full of fledgling Starlings eagerly fluttering their wings and being busily attended to by their parents. It’s very sweet, but also makes it difficult to sleep once the sun comes up. We have three coconuts full of bird fat-feeder: every day Janet fills them to the brim, and every day we get home to find them pecked bare.

Sadly today we found the half-eaten remains of one fledgling in the middle of the lawn. Since we lock our cats in during the day, and our two felines have yet to work out that if you successfully kill a bird it turns out to be full of cat-food, this can only have been the work of one of the local Toms. Sad, but the Starlings are doing fantastically well and I’m sure their gains are far exceeding their losses.

We also have a Blackbird nesting on the side of our garage, underneath a big trailing clematis. It’s managed to have at least two chicks despite being right next to our garden gate, and frequently spotted by the cats who sit nearby staring at it greedily. At one point Pixie even clambered up the wire mesh frame that the clematis has been trained up, and wound up sitting in the nest. Thankfully the chicks hadn’t hatched at this point, but with Pixie incubating them it’s a wonder they hatched at all.

Ups and downs

A day of excitement, thrills, gardening and wildlife.

Today was the annual ceremony of the removal of bubble-wrap from Janet’s greenhouse. We use the bubble-wrap as added insulation when there’s a threat of frost, but the greenhouse is a much lighter, airier place once it’s gone. It takes quite a long time because everything in the greenhouse including all of Janet’s carnivorous plants and the aluminium staging have to be moved onto the lawn, then moved back in again. Naturally we had cat help.

At lunchtime I was startled by a noise – let’s call it a squeal of terror – from upstairs. Janet had been sitting on the toilet when a large black spider had crawled over the top of her bare leg. When I got there she was in some post-traumatic stress, not least because she could no longer see the spider. I eventually located it by turning her trousers inside out in the bath. It was fairly juicy-looking. You can only imagine what would have happened if she’d put them back on without checking. 🙂

Later on this afternoon we were standing on our patio when a bird crashed very inelegantly into the top of the huge Leilandii tree next door. The tree is home to vast numbers of birds so we assumed that an enforcer for the local Pigeon Mafia had fumbled its approach, but then a bird of prey launched back out of the tree and flew right over our heads. It was speckled on its belly like a thrush, and about pigeon-sized. We reckon it must have been a Kestrel or a Sparrowhawk. It’s really good to know that there’s one patrolling somewhere near our house. Janet was so pleased about this it nearly made up for the Spider of Doom earlier. However she wishes me to be clear that nothing could ever make up for the HORROR.

We also found a couple of frogs in our pond a few nights ago. The newts are still there — we’ve counted at least three of them anyway — but we had a fine pair of yellow-brown frogs lurking under the surface. We’ve seen them a couple of times since then, always at night. I love the fact that we live in a suburban semi-detached house and yet we can see newts, frogs, toads, hedgehogs, bats, birds of prey, spiders and a wide variety of garden birds.

Newts!

We have frogspawn in our garden pond! Not much, but it’s there. More importantly, we were examining the pond today and saw not one but two newts swimming around in it… which may expain why the frogspawn is dwindling. Ahem.

Janet is over the moon. Getting either newts or frogs into the pond was one of the main reasons we built it. We knew we’d had newts in the garden at various points before installing the pond, but the pond has only been there since the middle of last year which is not long for it to naturalise in. Now not only are there the small snails we introduced but an entirely different species of snail, various insects, at least one itinerant frog who left the frogpsawn, and the newts we saw today.

CRAZY WIFE UPDATE: At Janet’s insistence we just went out in a thunder storm with a torch to check on our newfound newts, and there were at least six in the pond, which has to be a thriving colony by anyone’s standards. This is a rubbish photo of one. Then again it was dark, raining, thundering and lightning at the time.

We’re very pleased.

Avalaaaaaanche!

Yay! Snow!

Fairly shabby snow it has to be said, but living right near the coast as we do that’s actually as much snow as we’ve seen all winter. I do pine for a nice bit of snow. I’ve been looking at everyone else’s snow pictures and feeling a bit short-changed. At least this stuff is lying.

We had a lovely visit from my parents on Easter Sunday in which I daringly cooked Sunday lunch. Not only did it all get mostly cooked, mostly at the same time, but it was ready exactly as they arrived. I couldn’t do that again if I tried. We then tried to convert my parents to the wonders of Wii bowling and Wii boxing, the latter of which is amazingly knackering.

Other than that we’ve had a strange weekend of occasional fine and sunny weather, occasional snow flurries that have melted as they touch the ground, and some amazing gales on Friday that actually blew one of our recycle bins off the patio and right down to the foot of the garden under the bench. I don’t know what’s been going on with the weather since December but we’ve had some really fierce gales on a regular basis.

We also managed to get a swift nest box and a sparrow nest box attached to the house (courtesy of yours truly, a very tall ladder and a hammer-action drill, a combination not recommended to settle your nerves), which feels very satisfying. Now if I only knew how to get birds to nest in them. Maybe a “Rooms To Let” sign near the bird table. We already have swifts nesting in the eaves above our bedroom window so I’m cautiously optimistic.

And lastly we’ve been watching the unexpectedly not-crap adaptation of The Colour of Magic. Okay, it wasn’t fine art, but it did at least make me laugh and the actors were better cast than I’d originally feared, particularly David Jason. From what I saw of Hogfather this one felt a lot less stilted.

EDIT: Oh and I, er, may have eaten some chocolate. A bit.

More wifely craftiness

My wife is one of those people who always has some hobby or other on the go. I may have mentioned this before. I may also have mentioned that she tends to jump in with both feet, and that the results are often highly impressive.

Recently she signed up for a silver art course at the National Glass Centre. The course was a mixture of traditional silver working, and silver art clay. The clay is a suspension of pure silver in clay that can be moulded and then fired, burning away the clay to leave just fine silver (99.9% pure in fact; purer than sterling silver.) Obviously the materials are quite expensive but Janet being Janet she now has a fair bit of silver clay, several tools, a number of books on the subject, and a butane-powered mini-blow torch. Oh yes.

She’s not much on wearing earrings but she does wear necklaces and bracelets so made a number of items of jewellery along those lines.

I think the pendants are fantastic. All the pendants were done with silver art clay; the leaf design was her own and the piece has been oxidised and then polished to give the antique, slightly coppery look with the polished silver showing through on the highlights. The other pendants are unoxidised silver with a lot of polishing. The gems are synthetic.

More pendant pictures