I did not feel as though penning something last week was appropriate – for reasons, I hope, are obvious – so it is nice to be back in the saddle. Summer has started to really kick in now (together unfortunately with the required need for gardening work for those of us lucky enough to have a substantial garden to enjoy). Our garden is looking reasonably good after some effort (although nothing can save the lawn; grass is now a minority species in its expanse I fear in between the clover, moss and various other miscellaneous species that have crept in). The birds are at their most active and charming as they go through the breeding season and my devotion to the bird feeder is paying off with a wide range of engaging species from Goldfinches to a Greater Spotted Woodpecker but one species has been exceptional this year.

My garden has been taken over by Starlings.

It started innocently enough. A handle of adult starlings arrived, presumably migrants. They in particular took to suet balls and dried meal worms (the latter in particular, but then this is spot on food for that species). Starlings are beautiful little birds as adults once you look at them clearly and they have suffered a major decline in recent years so it was lovely to see them.

A couple of weeks ago, they turned up with an additional five birds, dull brown juveniles. It looked very much that the first place they went after fledging was our feeder and they have been there more or less constantly since then. This week more juveniles turned up so at peak visiting that’s 15 to 20 individuals.

Our garden is decently sized but not huge. I am beginning to slightly worry about complaints from the neighbours.

Starlings are terribly entertaining in large groups, but they are extremely noisy. They bicker constantly even as adults and when you add in the youngsters calling to still be fed that is quite a racket in an otherwise quiet road. Then again, are they any noisier than the multiple small families that live in our road and the regular high pitched squealing, shrieking and occasional ‘I hate you!’ utterances between their sibling charges? Probably not. The Starlings are probably less violent as well, although they do bicker constantly, with the adults regularly taking to the air for brief skirmishes before dropping once more to the food as the notice a third individual sneaking in for a snack while they are otherwise occupied. The juveniles usually just sit next to each other and occasionally peck each other in the head. So again, not much different from human children (well, siblings at least).

They are eating me out of house and home though – they will demolish a fat ball in a few seconds, their little beaks acting as little pile drivers and shattering it apart. The mealworms last even less time before they are swallowed or shoved down the throats of their offspring. Also they would keep eating all day if I kept putting more out.

But I think it is worth it. Echoing the dulcet tones of Phil Daniels it ‘gives me an enormous sense of wellbeing’ and they are a species that needs a hand – after all most reasons for their decline are our responsibility as well. However, thankfully they should be off at the end of the summer otherwise we might have to increase the mortgage to keep pace with their never ending feasting requirements.


I’ll Do It Later, Honest.

I have a set of small occasional tables I inherited from a grandparent that sometimes get pressed into service when we have guests to avoid the problem of tea cups being placed on the carpet and inevitably being spread all over it, probably by me. The largest of the tables however often threatens to spill the drinks without help from a human agent, as it has a pair of wonky legs that cause some consternation to said guests that maybe it is not entirely trustworthy enough to risk it supporting the Earl Grey.

For as long as I can remember this table has been on the wonky side. Maybe at heart I think of it as being characterful. The reality is that any time I set my mind to it those wonky legs could be quickly fixed via a short trip to Wilkinsons, procuring some wood glue and sticking the damn things permanently in the correct upright position. Even I, whose DIY skills are pathetic in the extreme, could probably manage to do that and not screw it up. However, I just never seem to get around to it. Every time I see the precarious angle of the legs I think to myself ‘I must get round to fixing that’ but for some reason it never happens.

I am sure I am not the only person who has a list of little jobs that actually would not take very long to do or are particularly hard but still never seem to get done. It fits perfectly with recent things I have read on procrastination and the ability we all have to put off things again and again in favour of doing something else instead that gives more of an instant gratification hit. We can keep putting it off too, especially if there is an element of the job that is onerous or we are not sure exactly how to go about it. Apparently the reason anything gets done in the end is because where there is a deadline there is a hard stop to the procrastination and basically we panic and finally do what we have to and should have done weeks ago. If there is no deadline, no urgency to fix the problem, then probably the chance the job will ever get done is pretty low unless a deadline is later imposed somehow. Yes, we can set our own deadlines on these open ended jobs but only the most disciplined among us will ever keep to a self-imposed deadline without some external additional pressure. I do not think I would get around to writing even these short blog posts most every week where it not that I set the date of the post as every Tuesday and the knowledge that a few people at least are actually looking to see if there is a post; in the busyness of everything writing six hundred words or so is easy to push aside for something which at the time seems more fun and/or more important.

It can be a problem; apparently it can lead to depression as, without those external pressures, some people continue to procrastinate as a rule and subsequently feel they are achieving nothing. As a natural encourager I think that is important for me to recognise as a potential issue and that sometimes encouragement is not just about telling someone they are doing well, or encouraging them to make that job application but adding a bit of steel in there as well – by setting them a deadline for that next step and holding them too it.

After writing this I was informed by the Lovely Wife that in fact we have some wood adhesive in the under stairs cupboard. My efforts to procrastinate further over the wonky leg has taken another blow, it seems. Just as well I have a work business trip to excuse fixing it for a least a little bit longer.

Trying to Drift, not Sprint

The summer arrived this weekend as far as we are concerned as the swifts are back, complete with full on screeching and unmistakable sickle shaped silhouettes streaking across the skies. Some people talk of swallows heralding the summer but for us, while they are certain a welcome site, they like the martins, arrive a little earlier and it is the swifts that come back last to enjoy what we laughably call a summer. I do not have high hopes for a good one this year. It seems to have been quite a dry spring so I am expecting perpetual rain through the summer months, but let’s see.

The swift boys being back in town though made me think about the signals and rituals people have to measure the passage of time. Because they keep coming around at a terrifyingly fast rate it seems. I have lost count of the number of times people have commented on ‘it’s not that time again, already!?’ and the expression of disbelief that time is flying. I’ve discussed before how it is most likely a perception based on the way your life is going through that period of time and what you are really focused on at any point which warps the view of how fast time is passing. For example, recently I have realised just how difficult it is to answer the question ‘how are you guys, then?’ when we meet friends that we may not have seen for a while. I do not really want to use the cop outs of ‘fine’ or ‘well, enough’ but frankly most times I do not have much else to say. At the moment are lives are, well, being lived. Mostly they are devoid of drama and concerns are mostly about how to fix the leaking tap, and whether the war against the ground elder is one that can be won. It is quite amazing how busy you can feel while not apparently achieving very much or undergoing any major life changes. Let us be clear, I am not after drama – we all know that in the next moment something could happen that make us wish for the simpler situation. But I feel now that while perhaps not in the prime of life, we are in second book of the trilogy of life, building on what was established in book one and before the endgame of book three. The early part of my life was marked by schooling, exams and First Times. Graduation, first job, moving out of home, first broken heart, finding the Lovely Wife, marriage, failing to have children and having to deal with that… It’s all pretty exciting stuff. But I have done all of that.

Looking forward now I see vague thoughts of retirement, getting more involved in volunteering for things that matter to me, enjoying the achievements of people I have known as children going through the kind of stuff that I did (but, hopefully, better). At the moment we are reasonably fit and healthy and long may that continue, but that will bring changes inevitably as we age.

But for the moment, most of the big changes have happened or are not on the immediate horizon. We are in good enough health to pretty much do what we like and have the time and resources to enjoy things like the theatre or go to gigs. We have a family schedule and it is booking now well into 2018 between work and social responsibilities. No wonder I feel time is flying. But I have come around to not worrying too much about that because I like busy and this is the time to enjoy life day to day as the ship sails on a reasonably steady course, as there are icebergs to come and we might be too busy steering to avoid them to live the frenetic but enjoyable life we are currently gifted with.

I think it is time for a nice cup of tea and a short break before attempting the next thing of the very long to do list.

In Bruges

I’m now back after a break for the Lovely Wife and I to enjoy our anniversary and reflecting on a very enjoyable week in Bruges. We were self-catering in a very central apartment in possibly the least Bruges-like development (i.e. post 1600 in style) that the owner of the flat euphemistically referred to as ‘The Project’. Any disappointment at the frigid modernity of the accommodation was quickly dispelled by proximity to the centre and the patisserie over the road.

I had been to Bruges once before many years ago and remembered enjoying it and to the Lovely Wife it was a completely new deal, a heady mix of water and cobblestones, lots and lots of cobblestones in fact, the only thing more numerous being the hordes of tour groups in certain areas of the city at certain times. Afternoons in Bruges, when visiting, seem to be a lot more pleasant sitting in a bar drinking the local brew rather than fighting the hordes following people with flags. Alternatively, walk one street away from the main sites and see no one at all, something we previously experienced to our delight in Venice. The old part of Bruges is terribly pretty throughout, with lots of interesting medieval buildings, random bits of canal and quiet courtyards of alms-houses. We especially were taken by the prevalence of crafty little wisteria plants that seemed to be inserted at fairly regular intervals, making even the most ordinary of streets just look a bit more scenic and worth promenading.

As well as visiting (and the obligatory eating and drinking – we were on holiday after all) we did a surprising amount of talking, or rather listening. Because I am not sure I have been away somewhere recently where, after an initial reticence, complete strangers opened up to us. There was the Australian lecturer who, having sat next to us in a bar, knocking back the Leffe and cigarettes while listening to podcasts (about Marilyn Monroe, we later learned) turned out to be rather chatty (she was from Melbourne, speaking at a conference in London and had taken to opportunity to nip across the channel for a bit of exploring). Waiting staff were also good value, providing the restaurant was not too busy. It turned out, for example, that a restaurant which (according to the guidebooks) specialised in playing the works of Mozart as a background to the obligatory mussels and fries (Belgium fries, as it was pointed out in several places, this being very much Flanders territory; the misappropriation of thin strips of deep fried potato to the French clearly still rankles) was now specialising in 1980s British electronica was because the head waiter was a massive fan of the genre. I do not even know how we started the conversation about that but soon we were regaled by his impressive list of gigs he was going to and possibly more impressively his list of ex-wives and associated issues. Normally this is the kind of download that I expect from bored ladies of a certain age that I often run into when visiting churches, but it certainly added amusement to our evening. It did not seem to be served up to everyone, but maybe we just have the kind of faces that makes people want to tell us about themselves. If so, I’m grateful for that because as a species we simply do not do enough talking to each other, especially conversing with complete strangers. If we did, maybe the world would be in a better state. As it is, one of the things that will stay with me from this week will not just be the beer, art and aforementioned cobblestones but the middle aged waiter so excited that he was soon going to see Depeche Mode play – for the umpteenth time, apparently.