Thursday, 31 July 2008

Poetry Competitions

Picking up a mention from Susan Richardson's blog - poetry competitions and their value.
From the winners' point of view it must be a confidence boost, a publicity tool and a useful addition to their CVs.
But what about those who don't make the winning list? Disheartened? Motivated to try harder?
Well, we can learn a lot by scrutinising the winners and the judges comments are often enlightening. And usually the financial profits have gone towards furthering literature or some charitable cause.

Is there a formula for a winning poem? Having been a competition judge, I've learnt that some elements are important. Firstly a poem has to stand out from the crowd, be memorable in some way. I think that's why accessible poems tend to be more successful. And secondly (I think there is a priority) there has to be some technical merit to justify the selection. And then there are the judges. Would Caroline Duffy favour a humorous poem over a poignant one? Of course there's always going to be an element of luck - some poems are excellent but it depends on what other poems they're up against.
Maybe I should try.
Feel free to post a comment on your thoughts about poetry competitions.

Sunday, 27 July 2008


No fledglings.
Yet stunning, still
in his best breeding plumage,
serenading from a bracken top,
scarlet ripeness pulsing through his crown
and oozing down his breast.
They dart to the same tree as one calls alarm,
always together, getting through,
they flit over an empty nest,
the pale centre of his breast
leaking red, staining him,
and from the fading foxgloves
he sings, sweetly sings....

To walk or to watch? That is the question....

It's always a dilema when I want a pacy uphill walk to get the heart going and yet I know I often have to stop, wait and let the birds show themselves when ready. I had planned to pause amongst the bracken and then race up the hill and over the moor. The reality was that half way round I got distracted by a flock of 40+ redpoll and siskin, did the second loop in reverse and found it was trickier tramping downhill than up.... Also I couldn't walk quickly anywhere near White Coppice because I didn't want to stand on any of the hundreds of tiny emerged frogs / toads that were everywhere.
The rewards: a beautiful 6.30am mist, close sightings of the resident linnets (sad to say no juveniles, likewise last year), stonechats perched atop the bracken while wren stuttered through it everywhere and willow warblers too.
Elsewhere a pair of green woodpeckers, family parties of pied and grey wagtails, 2 kestrels, 2 ravens, swallows, brown hawker, blue damsels and lots of common birds and butterflies. That said, I didn't see any blue, long tailed or coal tits and only 2 great. I wonder what's going on there.
The photos for this post are by Richard Spencer. Left: linnet. Right: juvenile stonechat. Click the link below to see more. then click on gallery link at the bottom of the page > members albums

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The End of Science Fiction

Another book I have recently enjoyed is Sam Smith’s The End of Science Fiction. (I bought it for my dad and then borrowed it back...) A novel that asks what would we do if we were told the world was to end in seven days? The prose hurtles along as detective, Herbie Watkins, makes his decision and hurries to solve a crime and confront the murderer before the said seven days. Characteristically of Sam every word works and every detail is resolved.
So does the world end? Read it yourself!

The Stones of Petronicus

I've just finished reading Peter Tomlinson's The Stones of Petronicus. An absorbing read taking readers into an ancient and mysterious world.

A strong yet gentle authorial voice that relates the truth of Petronius's courageous adventure and search for wisdom in dangerous days. I like the way it looked back and revisited events which the reader could revisit with him - just as we do. The philosophy is handled sensitively via master Petronicus’s stories and his novice, Petronius’s, part-thoughts.

A heart warming tale of love, devotion and commitment to saving their world. Thank you for an enchanting couple of days. I'm sure much of the book will linger.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Doing my tetrad...

I knew this tetrad visit (late season breeding) was going to be the most difficult. Not just because I had to record evidence of successful breeding but because the birds now have so many leaves to hide behind! Indeed, apart from the hirundinidae (swifts, swallows & martins), the numbers were down on the previous count. Not that I don't think the birds are still there.... I was disappointed, however, not to see two pairs of lapwings in their territory - I hope they have been successful.

Recent rain seems to have impacted my tetrad this week - a section of footpath by the River Yarrow has collapsed and elsewhere a crack willow has lived up to its name and landed in a field of corn. By the looks of the cereals I'm the first person to navigate passed.I did find time to enjoy a buzzard circling over with its characteristic V-angled wings. And I'm always fascinated by the sheer speed and elegance of swallow and swifts as they brush just above the spires of corn, their wide mouths scooping up any insects in their paths. I always miss them when they migrate.
Photos for this post are by Mike Atkinson - use the link from this site to see more.

Tall Ships

I went to Liverpool yesterday to see the tall ships. How remarkably hushed the city was. The traffic cordoned off and space given over to walkers pilgrimaging to Sandon and Wellington docks. Replacing the roar of modern cars were distant voices harmonising old sea shanties and a briny breeze lunging through riggings and stretching flags and straining halyards. Wonderful.

I've never been in a Liverpool pub before but they're well worth the visit just to admire their original ornate plaster ceilings and walls covered with beautiful wooden panels. So glad they've survived.

Being a former Guide and Scout leader, I couldn't resist a photo of the riggings and these neatly coiled ropes....

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Contemplating stiles

This evenings walk around Euxton Park was rewarded with two separate sightings of foxes and about two dozen rabbits. Swift were busy high in the sky.
And tonight's contemplation is stiles. There are several places in Euxton where different public footpaths come within a few metres of each other. Would it make sense to permit a few more strategic stiles to join up these footpaths? Indeed there is evidence of unofficial climbing over fences to do just that. The extra stiles would prevent such damage and increase the diversity of walks and I for one would welcome them.
But I wonder if permitting extra stiles would encourage too many folks to walk these path? And what would be the impact on the wildlife and landowners?

Photo from British Wildlife Centre

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Tourraine - a few more photos

It seems that every château in Tourraine is home to house martins. It's uplifting to hear their constant churrings and to watch them scalloping in and out beneath eaves and window recesses. This is Château Ussé which was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty.

The air space over Tours quivers with screeching swifts. What a joy to glance them sweeping through in close formations or watch them tight-looping around. Anchors in the sky, how they avoid collision is amazing. To the right is La Place de Plumereau in the old part of Tours.

And let's not forget the swallows swooping over the rivers Cher and Loire calling out that summer's here. Egret, cormorant, mute swans and common tern were also frequently seen. Left is an old-style boat built and moored at Savonniere. Below is the boat building yard.

Click on any of the photos to see them enlarged.

Consider the Lilies

Ever heard of Carol Fenlon? It's a name I hope you soon will know. I took a copy of Consider the Lilies to France - and what an absorbing read it is. A haunting tale about a feral child and her new friend Jack's efforts to trace and rescue the now adult Vicky from an institution. A fresh insight into mental ill health and homelessness by an author who knows her subject. Strong plot, pacy, innovative language - I recommend it.

And now for a few photos from France. First up is Château de Villandry and a view of a bedroom through the mirror.

Imagine the secrets that have walked up and down these stairs...

See the box garden where each design represents a different kind of love. In the right foreground is passionate love. The guide book says it represents broken hearts but I liked the fluidity of the designs flowing around a slightly shifting centre. To me it's alive. Behind it is romantic love (not my favourite) with its formal structure leaving no space to breath or manoeuvre. To the left is jealous love, devoid of any flowers except blood red in the centre of the blades.

from the field book

from the field book
An inspiring gift for anyone who enjoys watching nature.