Tuesday, 13 October 2009


Where I live there are a lot of birds flying along the river, but I’m not at all knowledgeable about what is what - I’m not in any sense an avid bird-watcher. But I do have a good pair of binoculars, a camera, and most of all an interest in wild life, and so I took the opportunity this weekend to rent a car and head out to Welney Wetland Centre, to see what I could see.

Welney is something like 25 miles from me, and I set my SatNav to go the shortest route - this is always interesting as it takes me along all the tiny country roads. I was amused right away as it took me along the route I sometimes cycle out to Wiggenhall St Germans, but I was soon driving way past where I normally stop, and into deeper countryside. Out here there are a lot of roadways called “Droves” - normally long and straight roads next to a ditch, and often about the same width as my car! But it’s a fun route to drive, and you really see the countryside from here - and now I’m deep in the Fens the countryside is mostly reclaimed marshland - so the term “flat” really doesn’t adequately describe it!

Soon I’m driving along Ten Mile Bank (that is what the road is called!!) and see the Wetland Centre building in the distance - this is an interesting looking wooded building, but as I park and get out of the car I’m most struck by the sound of the birds - a real cacophony of different calls and a joy to hear:)

I guess my first question about the wetland centre was why was it here - what is special about this place? Well, as I’ve said before this area was all marshland before it was drained for agriculture, but even so, the area would be still subject to flooding from the river, so some areas were set up to allow for the flood water to go safely - these were called the Ouse Washes, contained by high banks on each side. Over time they became the habitat for a number of bird species, and in particular a home for migrating birds.

The Visitor centre is on one side of the road, and I climb up to the top level, to find a pleasant gift shop and restaurant, and I fortify myself with a cup of coffee before moving on. Then up some more stairs to a walkway that takes me over the road and onto the top to the bank. I do see that this whole thing is disabled accessible - there are lifts and the walkways are well made and level. Walking over the bridge I’m again impresses with the noise of the birds - what I know realise are Whooper Swans. I walk into the main observatory, and this is not like any “hide” I’ve been in before - it is warm and has large glass windows overlooking the main lagoon - and what a site!! I counted over a hundred swans before I gave up counting - and as I watched there were new arrivals flying in - really amazing to see them swoop down, feet first and smoothly sail into the water. The Whooper swans spend the summer in Iceland where they produce their offspring, and then they migrate down to the “warmer” climes of the UK for winter - Welney is one of the main centres in this part of the world for the swans to over winter.

These were not the only birds there by any means, but their size and noise made them the most noticeable as they squabbled and fed. Further away from us were an even larger number of lapwings, and when they took off it was truly amazing how they filled the sky, before wheeling round and landing again. There were also Brent Geese on one of the dry areas, and they would occasionally make themselves heard over the swans.

I stayed in this main observatory for some time with my binoculars, but then decided to take a walk along to the other hides that I’d seen on the map. I set off first to the south, towards the reed beds, intending to see if the “summer walk” was open - unfortunately it was not, so I’ll have to come back to go on that track. As I was walking along, the strap on my binocular case broke - they are very old binoculars, and the strap had just worn out over time, so I had to carry them for the rest of the day rather that having them wound my neck.

Turning around, I walked back past the observatory, and on along the track to the Lyle hide. This was a much quieter area - one solitary swan in the distance, but mostly plover and lapwings, with some more Brent Geese. As I watched there was another bird hovering - by looking at the books I believe it was a marsh harrier - some sort of bird of prey certainly from the way it was flying. There were also many types of duck here - too many types for my limited knowledge to identify.

It was know getting on for 1 o’clock, so I headed back to the visitor centre for lunch - I had one of their specials of the day - vegetable soup - and more coffee. It was not a particularly cold day - in fact I’d gotten quite hot when walking in the sun - but the soup somehow seemed the right thing for this outdoorsy sort of a day.

After lunch I set off to the north end of the walk to the Friends Hide. There are a lot of colourful dragonfly darting around, and as a few butterfly as well - this is a warm and secluded place for them to thrive! As I arrived, someone was coming out of the hide, and I had it to myself for a long time - I sat there and just watched the birds come and go for a while, and actually found myself drifting off in a kind of sleep, when I heard the door behind me and more watchers arrived.

I had read that they have swan feeding starting in October, so I went back to the main observatory to see if they had started yet. All this time I’d been aware that there seemed to be more people walking the paths than I’d seen earlier, and when I got into the observatory it was a lot more crowded than before - a lot of people with a lot of expensive looking photographic equipment. I found out that the swan feeding starts at the end of October, but I stayed watching some more anyway. And I saw what seemed to me an amazing thing, a couple of the swans were standing on one leg - and very un-elegant they looked too!!

In the end I decided it was time to leave, and I reluctantly crossed back over the bridge back to the visitor centre, and back to my car.

Welney is a really nice place and one I intend to return to again.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

A bad taste

As regular readers will know, I live by myself. Now, whilst I do have friends that I socialise with, sometimes I just want to go out to a restaurant by myself. And mostly, that hasn’t been a problem.

Until Tuesday.

On Tuesday evening I decided that what I’d like to eat was Chinese food, and sure, I could cook it myself, or I could get a take out - but really, it’d be nice to eat in a restaurant - not just for the food, but also for the general experience of being out and about and being social. Along Railway Road here in Lynn there is a Chinese Buffet restaurant, and I thought that would be idea - I could get what I needed from the buffet, and not have the things that don’t agree with me - it’d be fun:)

So I turned up at the restaurant just after 7pm I guess - I looked through the window as I arrived and saw that they had one group of people in a table by the window, but it looked like the rest of the place was empty - not surprising at this time of day I expect.

I walked in the door and waited, and soon a waitress come up to me and said “can I help you?” - so I asked for a table for one. She then walked me around the place, past a number of empty tables, and then told me that, as I was eating alone, she needed me to pay for my meal and a drink before they would serve me. I actually think I stood stock still with my mouth open for a few moments. Then I asked why, to be told it was “company policy”.

Well frankly, that policy sucks. I have no idea why I, as a single diner, should be singled out for this discriminatory action. Do they think I’m going to be disruptive? Frankly, one person dining alone is LESS likely to be disruption than a group of people. Do they think I’d run off without paying? That must be a danger with any table, why pick on me for this particular treatment?

Or is it just that they actually just don’t want my custom? Is it that they don’t want people eating by themselves in their restaurant? Of course, they are perfectly entitled to put any rules they like about who they will and will not serve. And if that was their intention, then they succeeded in not getting my custom that day - or any day between now and when hell freezes over.

I went home and cooked for myself, but it will take a while for that bad experience to leave me.

Monday, 5 October 2009

What’s in a name?

A while ago I was taken to task for referring to the place I live in now as “a cottage”. Well, you know, I can’t think of a better description - it’s not a flat/apartment as it’s a self contained dwelling with its own front door to the world, rather than being part of a block of similar dwellings - It could be called a house, I guess, but that - to me - implies something bigger than a 2 up, 2 down building.

And then that started me thinking about this whole thing around what we call the places we live in, which is additionally complicated by the fact that the Americans among us use different terms than the British (so what’s new there!!!)

The first place I rented after leaving my parents house was the top rooms of a house; we had a kitchen, bedroom and sitting room/living room/lounge (now don’t get me started on the differences there!!!!), and the owners lived in the bottom half of the building. We had one front door and one address between the two dwellings, and we shared a bathroom. I called it a “flat”, and I’m fairly comfortable with that description, except that it implies to me that we have private facilities - maybe “rooms” would have been a better description.

The next place I lived in (and the first place I owned) was a maisonette. Now, I’m not even sure we use that term anymore, but at the time it meant a dwelling that was self contained and had its own entrance to the world - it was this latter point that differentiated a maisonette from a flat: flats had some sort of communal area where you entered from the street, and then their own front door to the accommodation. At the time it made a difference - a maisonette was worth more than a flat!

Then I moved to a house - a “semi-detached” house, which means that there were two dwellings connected together - I had 3 outside walls and one party wall. The hierarchy of price is detached most expensive, semi-detached and then terraced least expensive. In terraced homes, all the houses are joined together - you just have two outside walls. But it doesn’t tell you anything about size or number of rooms or - well - much else really! A house can be 2 or more stories high - with or without cellar, but if it’s only one story, then it’s a bungalow. Bungalows can be detached, semi-detached or terraced - at least in principle I guess they can - I’ve never seen terraced bungalows, but I would assume they exist. And then there are Town Houses - these are terraced houses on 3 floors, often with a garage as part of the ground floor of the building.

So what is a cottage? Interesting question - I think the only way to distinguish it from a house is that it’s a smaller place, and the term has connotations of rural cosiness. So this is a cottage :)

So much for the UK - but when I turn to the US I get even more confused. The term “flat” that we use would appear to be translated to “apartment” AND “condo”. It took me a while to get this distinction in my head because when I talk of a flat, I’m talking about a physical type of dwelling, so a flat can be rented or owned. And so I assumed that this was the case in the US and looked for the difference between the building types. And so, when I saw two identical buildings, one of apartments and the other condos I was REALLY confused! But eventually I got it - there is no physical difference, but an apartment is rented, but f it’s owned, it’s called a condo!

Nor is that all! At least in the part of the US where I found this out, a bungalow is normally 2 stories, with the 2nd story being in the loft - if I had to call this anything in the UK, I’d guess I’d call it a chalet style house. I kind of think that “duplex” is what I refer to as a semi-detached - except that in New York they have duplex apartments and so, like the distinction between apartment and condo, I may well be getting confused.