1 February 2021

February… It’s come round yet again. As I say in On the Moor:

February is, without doubt, the crappiest month of the year: Christmas long gone, and still winter drags on! By February, it’s getting beyond a joke. As my friend Mary used to say, there’s a reason why they only gave it twenty-eight days.

But, despite stereotypes, this particular February began as it clearly had no intention of going on. It was an absolute belter. A cold, crisp winter’s day, with the faintest hint of spring in the air. The snowdrops in the garden improved matters even further. They always remind me on Mum. Snowflakes were her favourite flowers. The ones in our garden came from my parents’ garden, which themselves, five decades earlier, when such things were less frowned on, came from the local wood.

The weather was too pleasant to ignore, so Jen and I took a stroll round the lanes. As we headed down the hill above the Lane Ends pub, I spotted a grey heron flapping low and languidly up out of the valley, across the field towards us. I had plenty of time to get my camera ready, and couldn‘t believe my luck as it flew by right in front of us.

Heron
Heron

A fabulous day. But it is February… There’ll be two inches of snow overnight, mark my words.

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Marmalade alchemy

Two-and-a-half inches of snow overnight. Still blizzarding down first thing. My plans for the weekly shop were immediately cancelled. What better excuse could Jen and I possibly need for staying in and making our second and final batch of 2021 marmalade?

But then a text message from Yorkshire Water: problems with the water supply, which might go off or become discoloured. So much for marmalade! But they fixed the problem soon enough, so Jen and I set to work on our second batch.

Marmalade
2021 marmalade (batch 2)

The secret with marmalade is to boil the orange-sugar-liquid mix until it reaches precisely 105°C. 104°C is not enough. 106°C is too much. Trust me, we’ve worked on this. Once you remove the pan from the heat, you should let it cool for 20 minutes or so before pouring it into jars. This leads to a much move even distribution of orange-peel shreds in the final product.

Marmalade isn’t an art; it’s alchemy.

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Keeping in touch

Every so often, Facebook presents you with ‘Memories’ of stuff you posted on exactly the same day one or more years ago. Like many of Facebook’s features, it’s one I would happily turn off if I could. Very occasionally, these reminders are welcome, but mostly they’re just yet more random social media noise competing for my eyeballs.

During the lockdown, these ‘Memories’ have reminded me of stuff I would normally be doing, were travel wise or allowed at the moment. I’ve been seeing lots of old posts from my former, almost weekly, trips to the Wirral to visit Dad. Nowadays, I visit him twice weekly via FaceTime, which works remarkably well. But I’m missing my regular trips to the Dee Marshes en route to Dad’s, and my occasional coffee trysts with my friend Carolyn while I’m over there—although those too have now been replaced with video-calls.

Who would have thought video-calls would become such an important way of keeping in touch? I’m seeing far more of my friends than I ever did when I was still allowed to meet them in the flesh. They’re not the same as meeting in real life, of course, but they’re a vast improvement on text messages and phone calls. It’s good to be able to look friends and family in the face and see they really are doing OK.

14 February 2021

The prolonged cold-spell is forecast to end today. Lots of people have been tweeting about how nice it’s been.

Snow on setts
Snowy setts, Hebden Bridge

In any other month, I’d probably agree. But I’ve generally had quite enough of winter, come February.

Come on, spring, get a move on!

21 February 2021

The annual February pre-spring clean of our blue tit nest-box. You’re supposed to do it nearer to St Valentine’s Day, but the icy cold weather of a week ago meant this was never going to happen.

Last year, for the first time since we set up our nest box in 2002, we did not have a successful blue tit brood. A pair of birds showed interest for a few weeks, going through all the right motions, but then they just disappeared. In the book I’m currently writing, I have a chapter in which I describe the huge success we’ve had with our blue tit nest box. It looks as if I might have to add a post script.

Blue tit eggs

I was surprised to find two abandoned eggs inside the nest box, with almost no evidence of any nesting material. Usually, the blue tits pad the box with an assortment of moss, hair and feathers. So it looks as if last year’s birds were particularly inept. But inept birds, as this example shows, tend to leave fewer offspring, so the problem is self-righting. Darwinian natural selection in action in the corner of our garden.

I usually find a few invertebrates when I'm cleaning the nest box. Bird lice, woodlice, unrecognised squooshy things. This year, I was delighted to find a magnificent spider, which I carefully relocated in the bush at the side of our compost heap.

Spider

No longer rocket science

Yesterday evening, I attended an excellent Zoom video lecture by author and conservationist Mark Cocker on the subject of crows. It was the latest in a series of lectures organised by The Last Tuesday Society. Cocker spoke for about an hour, then took questions from the online audience. I managed to sneak in a question of my own about ravens flipping upside-down while flying and cronking. There was also a Facebook page where attendees could hand out and discuss the presentation afterwards.

The talk was loosely based on Cocker’s wonderful book Crow Country. There were a lot of crow fans in the audience. Apparently, over 800 tickets had been sold for the event.

This was the latest in a small number of online, video-streamed events I’ve attended during lockdown. I’ve enjoyed them very much indeed. The fact that people who are, in effect, enthusiastic amateurs can now netcast live events to a global audience is pretty mind-blowing. It reminded me very much of the early, golden days of blogging. As an Information Systems strategist at the time, I confidently predicted blogging was about to take over the world. It did for a while, then the likes of Twitter and (especially) Facebook arrived to throw a spanner in the works. It could be argued the social media giants were simply the next, logical step in the blogging phenomenon, but I can’t help feeling they went out of their ways to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We’ve come a long way technically since I watched the events of 911 unfold on Dave Winer’s Scripting News blog, while all the traditional media websites crashed under the unexpected load. Back in those days, even having a blog was an immense technical challenge (a challenge I was determined to, and soon did, overcome). To save bandwidth and cut load times, images on blogs were either non-existent, low-definition, or tiny. Audio was pretty much unheard of. Video, a distant dream. Now we have podcasts, and video blogs, and live lecture series being published by people from their smart-phones and laptops.

This has to be a good thing, and I’m really glad enthusiastic amateurs are putting out such great content. But I still miss the days when blogging was going to take over the world. Before the likes of Twitter and Facebook turned up on the scene. They haven’t quite won yet, and I think the backlash will continue to build. I’ll keep using them, of course—primarily because that’s where most the people I want to hang out with hang out these days. But I’ll also stubbornly continue to put out (and shamelessly link to) stuff on my own websites, because that’s where I feel any original ‘content’ I generate rightly belongs. And because I’m pig-headed like that.

Get your own websites, people! It’s no longer rocket science.

28 February 2021

Late February seems to have decided it’s April. The last three days of my least favourite month have been glorious.

We managed to dry the bedsheets outside on Friday. Yesterday, I heard my first curlew of the year burbling across the fields from the general direction of the Moor. It only lasted for about three seconds, but it quite made my day. Later, on an errand into Hebden Bridge, I was surrounded by birdsong and budding trees. And, as I was lying in bed listening to the half-hearted dawn chorus this morning, I was thrilled to hear a curlew calling at length from the field in front of the house.

And, to cap it all, tomorrow is March. Things are starting to look up.

Pussy willow
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