The many and various ways I pass the time now has a new addition. Usually it involves drinking coffee whilst sitting at a computer keeping in touch with chums, or sipping wine sitting on our tiny terrace catching the sun, and wondering what else I can do to avoid any cleaning or tidying or putting away of stuff and things that aren't even MINE. And now I am going to type this blog. Provided that doesn't become a chore as well, in which case...

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Mr Wonderful

This man is - in my admittedly biased opinion - a near saint, a legend, an icon and an undoubted genius.

I shall love him until I die. If he goes before I do, and if I still have an ounce of awareness left in me, when I hear he is gone I shall weep. I do not feel this for anyone else I have never met.

I guess that is what it is to be a fan, then.

In case you were wondering just who inspires me to write thus, please read on

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Hotter Than July (Part II)

Yesterday's BBC Regional News in the evening had two interesting Welsh weather statistics for us to chew on whilst we sweltered gently in a post-prandial haze; Wales has been the sunniest (but not hottest) part of the UK in this present bout of serious summer.  Other areas have had higher temperatures, but we have had more hours of sunshine.  Add to which the fact that by yesterday - 17 July - we had already had our average July monthly quota of sunshine, even though we were only just past the half-way mark for the month.

I was suitably impressed.

It will explain why the North Welsh resorts and historic sites we visited in our three-day break away from our mid-Wales country fastness had an exotic continental feel to them.  We sat in pavement cafes and the outdoor seating areas of restaurants, dog under the table grabbing what shade he could find, all of us heavy with heat, soporific with sunshine, our walking pace slowed to an idle saunter, and even that felt a mite rushed at times.

Our View at Lunch in Criccieth on Monday

We ate virtually all our meals out of doors, but for one late-night curry and the breakfast part of the B&B we had booked for our first night away.  The dog was in our bedroom with a deep bowl of cool water and the telly on low while we went out for the first of those, as all the open restaurants with outdoor seating areas in Criccieth were already fully booked, and its being Monday most other eating places were enjoying their night off.  Good old curry houses!  Open until eleven, seven nights a week.  Boy!  Do those Bangladeshi chaps WORK?!  I suppose you were aware that the vast majority of "Indian" restaurants in the UK were run and staffed by Bangladeshis.  If not, please accept this curious fact with my compliments and a liqueur on the house.  We always get given a liqueur on the house after a curry, don't you? 

My Boys at Aberdaron

 Abersoch Bay

Some of the Smaller Houses with Sea Views

The first afternoon away we spent on the very lovely Lleyn Peninsula, spending the afternoon on the beach at Aberdaron where I swam in cool crystal-clear water and emerged exceedingly refreshed.  The Husband and The Dog merely paddled sedately (see above), being boys and therefore frightened stiff of a drop of cold water.  Later we took a walk around the harbour walls at Abersoch, which is like a Celtic St Tropez, lots of yachts and motorised gin palaces moored in the harbour and the bay and socking great detached houses, millionaire nests every one, overlooking the water from the wooded hills above (also see above).  All exceedingly couth and expensive, and in the weather we were having exactly like the French or Italian Riviera, on a smaller scale, and all the prettier for that.

After our night at Criccieth, we headed off to Caernarfon, parked the MGB slap bang next to the castle and set out to explore the grids of streets of brightly painted houses inside the old mediaeval walls.  We drank a pre-lunch drink under a huge umbrella outside a timber-framed pub which was festooned with flowers, people-watching as the streets filled with tourist parties from Spain, and then America, and then the Far East.  Not being schooled in oriental languages I can't be more precise than that.  Once they would have been almost certainly Japanese, now they are more likely to be South Korean or Chinese, I guess.

On the swing bridge at the entrance to Caernarfon harbour

Then, amongst the throng I suddenly spot a familiar face from home!  My choir conductor and her husband are also gadding about spending their Grey Pounds on a couple of nights away from home, we are told.  They joined us at our table and another round of drinks and much hilarity ensued.  The four of us having exchanged local musical gossip and put the world to rights the two couples settled up and went their separate ways in search of lunch.

Mid-afternoon we drove along the Menai Straits to the first road bridge and crossed over to Ynys Mon - aka Anglesey.  We had thrown our tent, bedrolls and sleeping bags in the boot of the MG and the plan was to camp somewhere on the island the second night.  After tootling through the lanes and along the coast to Beaumaris and slightly beyond we decided that our fondness for watching the sun sink into the waves rather dictated we look on the SW side of the island for somewhere to pitch for the night, and so we crossed over the middle of the island and started to look for a billet. 

In the end we settled on Rhosneigr, which is right next door to RAF Valley where Prince William works as a search and rescue helicopter pilot, and it is also the nest for the supersonic fighters we love so much which contour-chase through the part of the Severn Valley where we live.  It would be fun to see them take off and land during working hours (8.30am-5.30pm on days of good clear weather), we thought.  What we hadn't appreciated was that the Sea King helicopters took off, landed and flew very low overhead at night as well, with one roaring thundering flight crossing the sky just above our tent at 2.00am!  That, and the baked-hard ground and our very thin and totally inadequate sponge rubber bedrolls, added up to a fitful night's sleep, and by 9.00am the tent was far too hot to stay in and doze to catch up on zzzs.  We were going to be in for another sweltering day.

Having struck camp and packed up we drove the short distance to Aberffaw, where we had a Full Welsh Breakfast in a delightful cafe, in a rose-filled courtyard, and then we walked to the little rocky bay where can be found The Church in the Sea.  I'd love to show you our photos of that, a small white-washed stone church on an island that can only be reached at low tide, but we haven't got round to uploading the photos off The Husband's smartphone yet. 

We crossed back to mainland Wales at about noon and decided to take the Snowdonia route home, breaking for yet another al fresco lunch in Beddgelert.  Such self-indulgence!  Not for us home-made sandwiches and flasks of tea in a lay-by, I am afraid.  We like to eat out and eat well, in comfort, with bar staff and waiters and loos nearby.  I have got soft in our old age, and The Husband also has a lifelong dislike of picnics, and sandwiches full of sand, or butties full of bugs.

We were back home by late teatime, hot from the journey in an open-topped car in temperatures in the upper 20sC or possible even 30C, and tired after our restless night under canvas (well, two layers of thin nylon, in the interests of accuracy), and glad to be back, to feed the birds, water the plant pots and catch up on some sleep.  Next adventure we aim to head south, to New Quay, and Tenby, and The Gower, and do more camping.  As this weather is set to last at least another week, perhaps even a fortnight, that may happen sooner than you'd think, but not until we've bought an inflatable double mattress and a pump!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Hotter Than July

At last we are booked in for some proper summer weather here in the UK, well most of us are.  After the summer we had in 2012 seeing a row of yellow orbs lined up in the BBC website's five-day forecast is a strangely unfamiliar sight.  Today is Men's Finals day at Wimbledon, and temperatures of up to 30C have been mentioned for that part of London.  Inside the Centre Court is will be sweltering.

So all the best to the finalists in withstanding that heat, as well as four or five hours of gladiatorial combat.  I am not the least bit bnothered who wins, as I know in advance that it will be the best man on the day.  That's juist how tennis works, and no-one ever makes excuses for themselves if they lose, not in public or in interviews anyhow.  That is part of the reason I love watching Wimbledon, that and the ingenious scoring method in tennis which makes it so very exciting to watch.

I am not partisan in nationalist terms.  I find it impossible to support a team or a person just because they come from some part of the UK.  However, I have a sneaking and growing admiration for the Welsh rugby team, and support them (in the sense I am pleased to see them do well) in their televised matches, mostly beacuse I know how much it matters to many of our lovely neighbours.

I must tackle learning the Welsh National Anthem in Welsh.  It's a wonderfully stirring one, on a par with the Marseillaise.  A bloody good sing!

Here in mid-Wales the mercury will hover around 25C-26C at the warmest point of the day, we are told.  That's just nice.  Mid to upper 70sF for those of you who prefer old money.  Any cloud that floats by with be white and fluffy, my very favourite sort of sky.  I know a lot of people love a sky of pure peerless blue, but like an occasional lofty cloud to enable me to fix on it and get some sense of the height of the atmosphere towering above us, miraculously giving us air to breathe and shielding us from excess harmful rays.  When I was a kid I used to love to lie in a field or on the heather, sprawled on my back in total relaxation, watching the billowing clouds float across the sky.  I guess I was a bit of a solitary dreamer, even back then.  I still need a few minutes or hours a day of quiet to think my own thoughts, or I can feel very overstretched and pulled tight.

My love of the sky has given me a great enjoyment of flying (I even feel excited at take off and landing) and enabled me to screw up my nerve and be a passenger in a friend's microlight (which is exactly like flying strapped into camping chair attached to a lawn-mower engine)  a couple of years ago, despite my slight fear of heights.  I loved it but for the fact I could not bring myself to look straight down, to see my own foot dangling 2,500ft above the ground.  Too freaky!  Also, it was jolly cold up there, even on a sunny day in August.  My ankles and neck were freezing despite wearing a borrowed ski suit.

So today is my perfect sort of temperate climatic offering: hot but not sweltering, blue skies with whisps of white cloud, and a do-as-you-please Sunday stretching ahead of us. Sorry if that sounds awfully smug, but it happens too infrequently in the UK for us to feel complacent.  Let us enjoy it while we can !

Saturday, 6 July 2013


 ...we are going to pack up the car with an overnight bag and stay at Gregynog Hall for a night's B&B.

  The Formal Gardens, seen from the terrace

The Main House has a mock Tudor facade, and was built in the mid C19th

The Stable Block has been converted into accommodation and a daytime restaurant

...we are going to pack up the car with an overnight bag and stay at Gregynog Hall for a night's B&B.

This may seem a crazy idea to most people, as this country house is only half an hour away by car, but it is set in 700 acres of formal gardens, grounds and farmland, and there are rooms to be had at a reasonable rate for an overnight stay with breakfast.  We shan't be in the main house.  I suspect that is kept for major block bookings, such as weddings and conferences, when the place can be fully staffed overnight (for security reasons, as it is full of antiques, paintings and valuable books). We shall be staying in the converted stable block, next to the restaurant.  There is no evening meal available, but we can have lunch and afternoon tea, and I shall have a conducted tour of the house whilst The Husband and The Dog avail themselves of the extensive outdoor facilities: Italianate gardens and  rambling shady wooded grounds full of Californian Redwoods and other large conifers, under planted with rhododendrons.and azaleas.

My plan is to pack up our own food and drink and have an evening picnic on the lawn or in our room after sunset. Perhaps then we shall be able to catch up with the men's Final at Wimbledon on the TV, having missed it to spend the afternoon doing something a little out of the ordinary.

Of course, we will fetch up there in the MG with the hood down (as the weather is set fair for the whole weekend and then some) with our case and our picnic things, and then I shall flan about like Lady Muck, just as though I were attending a country house weekend in a novel by PG Wodehouse, or Evelyn Waugh or Agatha Christie. 

Preferably one of the the first two.  Don't much fancy the idea of a body in the library - especially not being the main exhibit!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Family Portraits

 Mrs Pearl Blue, with her human sister's wedding photo in the background

Mr Mervyn Green, with Mrs Blue keeping an eye on him

Other Family Members

I've been blogging for quite a while now, about three years, and I have mentioned a few Dramatis Personae in that time:  Goldenoldenlady (as was) which is Yours Truly, The Husband, The Daughter, The Dog, one or two of my vast stock of sisters (four in all, two who live quite a long way away and I never see these days), The Lodger (long gone), some chums, and latterly Our Ma (now deceased).  But I haven't mentioned the smallest members of the clan - The Birds.

What an oversight!  Especially as where I sit to poot the day away is right next to their little house (aka their cage, but that doesn't sound nearly as pleasant) and one in particular, is very noisy indeed.

We have two budgerigars, had them since 2008, and they have had a suprisingly interesting history for two such tiny creatures.  Now read on...

When The Husband and I were first cohabiting, when he was The Boyfriend, we had at first no pets.  He and his first wife had had cats - four at the same time, at top whack - but she had taken then with her when she left in 1997.  You can imagine how upsetting that must have been.  He has a wife and a feline family, and then they go and he has no-one but himself.  It made him very wary about two things - proposing to me and getting pets.  It took a year for him to concede on both points, and he crumbled on the pet thing just ahead of the betrothal thing.  In 2001 we got a cock budgie, a handsome blue fellow we named Gordon, and the following month we got engaged.  I guess The Husband must have regained his ability to trust.

Gordon was such a character.  He chattered in budgie and human (Good boy, Gordon, handsome, handsome.  I love you, yes I do.  Night night, sleep tight.  Lots of phrases, mostly taught him by The Husband) and flew onto our fingers when called, or landed on our heads or shoulders, a very tame, very happy, little chap.

The following year I left full-time teaching and took up private tutoring instead, which I did in the late afternoon and evenings.  So as The Husband came in from work, I was just going or had already gone, but there was someone at home the vast majority of the time.  And so we got The Dog, or to be more precise, The Puppy, as he was then.

So we had a feathered friend and a hairy toddler and our family was complete, or it was until Gordon died, very suddenly, and without warning, one Saturday evening in February 2008.

I was bereft.  It was crazy how much I missed him and grieved for him. That first week at home without him, when the Husband was at work, the house was deathly quiet, even though The Dog continued to be my faithful little white shadow following me wherever I went around the house.  No cheerful chatter, no amusing acrobatic antics, nothing but silence in the dining room where his cage had stood.  I couldn't stand it.  A week later we were back at the same pet shop, looking for another bird to fill the sad little silent space he'd left.

And so we acquired Archibald Periwinkle, another blue bird, this time with hints of violet in his plumage, as the name might suggest.  He was soon hand tame, but not as chatty as Gordon or any of the other cock budgies we'd both had as children.  He mostly liked to imitate the wild garden birds he could hear when the patio doors were open.  He obdurately refused to pick up any human, and so we resigned ourselves to having chosen a non-talking budgie this time.

Later that same year, when Archie had been with us about six months, we had weekend visitors who were not pet owners and found our decision to have a bird a little puzzling.  They asked a lot of questions, and (their both being doctors) some of them were quite scientific.  Eventually, they asked how do you tell the sex of a budgie.  "Oh it's easy," I decared confidently, "it's in the cere.  You look at the area above the beak where the nostrils are, the colour of it. Here, I'll show you.  A boy is blue a girl is brown or pink." 

I opened the cage door and persuaded Archie onto my finger.  And then I looked at him a little more closely than we had of late.  His cere was no longer pale blue, it was pinky brown and crusty.  This, I knew, was not a sign of illness.  This was a sign of a more mature hen bird coming into potential mating condition.  Archie was a girl!

My, how we laughed.  Suddenly he/she needed a new name.  I decided on Pearl.  Pearl the Girl.  And because we knew nothing of keeping females I did quiet a bit of Internet research that week, and somehow got it into my daft head that girls related less well to humans, hence were less likely to talk, and preferred to have a companion bird.

So, I got her one.  Another beautiful hen, a jade green stunner, which we called Myrtle.  Myrtle and Pearl.   Sisters, room-mates, lifelong companions in the making.

Myrtle was a very difficult little thing to handle.  She pecked and panicked and flapped and fluttered and would not accept a finger to perch on.  After a couple of months of trying to train her I gave up attempts to handle her physically, and relied on psychological training.  She was happy to return to the cage once her sister was back in, so they could both have flying exercise and go back to their little house when we needed them to return to it.

How on earth could we have got it so wrong about Archie/Pearl, though, I hear you query?  Well, the simple explanation is that very young or even juvenile budgies do look awfully similar, the cere is a pale violet or very light blue in both sexes, so is maybe not as reliable an indication of gender as we'd been led to believe.

Really, REALLY unreliable, as we were to discover after a few more weeks, when Myrtle's cere began to change, not to pinky brown, but a deeper brighter much more distinct shade of blue.  Myrtle was a boy.  We had got it wrong again!  Instead of sisters, we had a hen and a cock. Oh Lordy!

Another name-change was necessitated.  Myrtle became Mervyn.  Over time this complication and uncertainty about changing their names confused even us, so for quickness of identification they became Mr (Mervyn) Green and Mrs (Pearl) Blue.  We even started addressing them in a Bronx accent, as their names had come out so very Jewish-sounding.  Moyvyn and Poyl.  But mostly just Mr Green and Mrs Blue. 

Which they have remained to this day, five years later.  The only pair of transgender budgies we have ever heard of - only in the Bulmer household, eh?

Oh, and before you ask, no, no eggs.  Not even unfertilised ones.  We do nothing to encourage breeding, we don't give them a nesting box, or nesting material, we do not change Mrs Blue's diet to get her into breeding condition.  And I have recently read that one needs an aviary of at least six birds, three female and three male as a minimum, to encourage the flock to go into full mating behaviour, as being flock birds that's how they behave in the wild, with cocks challenging one another for the best females.  I have occasionally mused about having an aviary in the sunny back garden here in Wales, but The Husband just blanches and sets his mouth in a firm straight line.

That's one of his three NOs a year.  The other being in answer to my occasional suggestion that we get another dog, and the third kept spare for whatever especially silly scheme I dream up that year.  Three NOs a year, max.  Quite a few unsures, of course, but I usually win him round.  Hey ho!  Happy Days.