Saturday, 28 February 2009

The Lake

Back to music for a while, not opera this time. My taste in music has always been, shall we say, mixed. One of my favourite pieces is one I stumbled upon a short time ago completely by accident. The song in question is by a little known group called 'Antony and the Johnsons' and it is based on the poem 'The Lake' by Edgar Allan Poe. Poe is best known as a writer of tales of mystery and the macabre and The Lake has a mysterious quality to it. The video which accompanies the song is I think, equally fascinating and somewhat perplexing - can you work out what's going on? I'm sure you will agree, Antony has a unique voice - as unique as the music.

In youth's spring, it was my lot
To haunt of the wide earth a spot
The which I could not love the less;
So lovely was the loneliness
Of a wild lake, with black rock bound.
And the tall pines that tower'd around.
But when the night had thrown her pall
Upon that spot — as upon all,
And the wind would pass me by
In its stilly melody,
My infant spirit would awake
To the terror of the lone lake.
Yet that terror was not fright
But a tremulous delight,
And a feeling undefin'd,
Springing from a darken'd mind.
Death was in that poison'd wave
And in its gulf a fitting grave
For him who thence could solace bring
To his dark imagining;
Whose wild'ring thought could even make
An Eden of that dim lake.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Green shoots of recovery.

Relax, I'm not referring to the credit-crunch/recession/depression/balls-up, or whatever you'd like to call it. I refer to the first green shoots of spring sprouting on the trees and bushes. Today we walked south along the Nutbrook Trail and were pleased to see the pale yellow-green shoots on the hawthorn.After the exceptionally cold weather we've had recently, it's a great mood lifter and makes you look forward to more to come.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Grandad's favourite....

Returning briefly to the musical theme, I mentioned a couple of days ago that my Grandad's favourite piece of music was the Intermezzo from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. A very well known piece of music from a not so well known opera. I thought I would share this piece with you all so you can form your own opinions.

More about the opera can be read HERE. Hope you enjoy the musical interlude (no doubt Malcolm will be grateful it's not more "screeching women"! Not a great fan of opera as you may guess and especially not sopranos).

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Signs of Spring.

A nice walk this morning around Shipley Hill, through the grounds of the old hall and past the two lodges. It is beginning to look more like spring these days and it will not be very long before the daffodils on the hill are in bloom - many are already showing some colour. The bluebells too are shooting up from the leaf-litter. Above all else however, this morning saw drifts of snowdrops carpeting the ground all over the hill. There must be millions of them and what a sight they are.Quite a difference from a couple of weeks ago when all was covered in white of a different type. The trees too are beginning to burst into bud, the Hazel trees as mentioned previously, are still covered in catkins and they have now been joined by the Alders. Strange how so many trees have developed the same solution to the problem of distributing pollen. Fortunate for the Siskins which were all twittering among the Alders picking out seeds still left from last year's crop. More snowdrops, then back home for coffee!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

How low can you go?

Switching our attention from the highest operatic ranges to the lowest I have a clip of another great singer, Ivan Rebroff. Born in 1931 he was named Hans-Rolf Rippert, many have assumed he was Russian, but he was, in fact German. Ivan Rebroff had a most extraordinary vocal range, easily spanning four and a half octaves and was as comfortable singing soprano as he was the deepest 'basso profondo'.
Rebroff was best known for singing Russian folk songs but also performed opera, light classics and folk songs from many other countries and was well loved the world over. Sadly, he died almost exactly a year ago 0n 27th February 2008.
The Clip I have for you is a song called in Russian, Вечерний звон (Evening Bells) and shows Rebroff's fantastic range from the growling bass notes to the sweetest highs. It is worth listening too for the accompanying singers providing even lower bass voices in the background. It makes you wonder how anyone can reach such seemingly impossible low notes. Truly amazing.

Monday, 23 February 2009


Further to yesterday's operatic theme, I thought I would indulge myself a little more and share with you the piece of opera which as I said, captured my imagination. I refer to the wonderful Puccini opera, Turandot. Almost everyone has heard of it thanks to the soccer world cup, the Three Tenors and 'Nessun Dorma'. But, as with most things, there is so much more to it.
The story centres around the 'icy' Princess Turandot and her pledge to avenge the death of an ancestor. This she does by setting any suitors who dare to come 'wooing', three riddles. If the potential suitor answers the riddles correctly, she will marry him. If not, they must submit their heads to the sword. Eventually of course Turandot is 'thawed' by an exiled Prince, Calaf, who is so captivated by Turandot's beauty, that he is bound to try his luck witht the riddles - much to everyone's consternation! However, Prince Calaf answers the riddles correctly and in spite of some last minute goal-post shifting on the part of Turandot (which would put any modern politician in the shade), Calaf and Turandot are united in love at the end. All together now....aaaahhhh!
The part of Turandot is a demanding role and one to which relatively few sopranos can do justice. Among the best has to be Dame Joan Sutherland, unfortunately she never played the role on stage, only in the recording studio with Pavarotti as Calaf - a truly magical combination. To my mind however the finest Turandot performance on stage has to be from the late Ghena Dimitrova. Ghena was born in Bulgaria in 1941 and once said "Turandot may not be my favorite part, but it shows off the voice to great advantage. The way the music is written, you need a voice like a trumpet to do it justice." Sadly she died in June 2005 but Dimitrova had the vocal power, control and range needed to perform such a demanding role as Turandot as the clip shows. The clip is taken from a performance at the open-air Arena de Verona, the third largest Roman amphitheatre in Italy. Can you imagine having a voice powerful enough to rise above a full orchestra, chorus and soloists, in an open air theatre without artificial amplification? Ghena Dimitrova does it - with gold-plated knobs on. The sound quality is not brilliant but still well worth it.

A transcription of the libretto and translation can be found HERE.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Mild und leise....

One of my passions in life is for opera. In particular I love to listen to a wonderful soprano with a voice powerful enough to soar high above a full orchestra, yet with enough control to sing as sweetly as a bird. There are few sopranos with both qualities. You generally find those who can belt out a good 'tune' but who struggle with the more refined, quiet pieces, or those who have a voice as sweet as honey, but who cannot hope to reach the powerful, high notes required by some composers.
My interest in classical music and eventually opera, undoubtedly comes from my Grandfather through my Mother. Mum always said that my Grand-dad's favourite piece of music was the 'Intermezzo' from Mascagni's 'Cavalleria Rusticana' - a piece everyone is familiar with even if the name means nothing! My love of opera stems from hearing excerpts from Puccini's 'Turandot' (and no, not just Nessun Dorma!). I remember being blown away by Joan Sutherland singing 'In Questa Reggia' and by then I was hooked.
More recently I have taken a liking to Wagner, someone I would have thought of as being a bit too "heavy going" a few years ago. Towards the end of his opera 'Tristan und Isolde', the heroine sings a very famous aria entitled 'Mild und leise wie er lächelt' which translates as Mildly and gently, how he smiles. This is another piece which just hit me like a steam train when I first heard it. It is a huge, soaring piece of music requiring the soprano to have both the control and power of voice I referred to earlier.
Here is a link to a video of the piece in question. See what you think.
I suggest, if you don't know the gist of what is being sung about have a look at the full libretto and an English translation HERE - it will help to demonstrate the power and raw emotion involved in the aria. Enjoy!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

A question answered

While on Holiday in Spain a few weeks ago, we were looking out to sea at a large ship on the horizon and the thought occurred to me - how far away is the horizon? Well, the answer has just been given by the excellent BBC TV series QI with Stephen Fry. (See HERE).It appears that the distance to the horizon (in miles) is approximately the square-root of 1.5 times the height (in feet) of your eyes. This all depends on you being somewhere entirely flat - like the sea. So, taking the picture above as a starting point, it was taken about 140ft above sea level making my eye 145.5ft above sea level. This would make the horizon in this picture approximately 14.7 miles away. If I had been standing on the shore when I'd taken the photo, my eye would have only been 5.5ft above sea level which would make the horizon only 2.8 miles away. So now we know. Fascinating!

Friday, 20 February 2009

Happy Birthday!

Today is the 78th birthday of Malcolm's Mum, Patricia. So, we went for a ride out to look at Attenborough Nature Reserve near Nottingham. Pat had never been and said she would like to go so off we went. It was very nice strolling around the flooded gravel pits and nearby Trent river. The paths were a little wet and muddy in places but that didn't spoil the walk. As always, there were plenty of wildfowl swimming around looking ever hopeful that we had brought a bag of bread or grain.The Mute Swans were beautiful, the Mallards plentiful and the Tufted Ducks, cheeky! We were reminded again that spring is just around the corner when we saw (and heard) the Grey Herons beginning to assert their authority over each other in an effort to gain the best nesting site in the tops of the waterside trees.

Lots more information HERE. After our walk, it was off to the 'Priory' - a Toby Carvery - for a large and delicious lunch.................. but not for this character!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


A mucky day today, drizzling, misty and, just plain nasty. So no walk (except around the isles of Tesco). Looking around the garden however, the droplets of rain on the leaves sparkled in what light there was and looked like small jewels scattered around.These particular droplets were clinging to a small conifer Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Boulevard'. Which has a name larger than the plant itself. With a little help from some imaging software, I've made the droplets shine a little more and some 'artificial' lens flare gives them some life. It all shows how easy it is to fake digital pictures!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


Do my eyes deceive me? Are we seeing the first signs of Spring? This morning, it was very mild and spring-like on our walk so I decided to look for signs of Spring, but it turned out that there were no better signs than the snowdrops in our own front garden.This, "Common" Snowdrop - Galanthus nivalis - is one of approximately 20 species of Snowdrops. The Name Galanthus comes from the Greek 'Gala' (meaning milk) and 'Anthos' (flower). The second part 'nivalis' means "of the snow". The word Snowdrop was first used in 1633. The derivation of the name is uncertain, although it may have come from the German word Schneetropfen, which was a type of earring popular around that time.More info HERE.

Saturday, 14 February 2009


Tomorrow, we have to retrieve our mothers from East Midlands Airport at the end of their holiday in Fuengirola. We were in Fuengirola ourselves last year at about this time and spent a lovely time taking in the sights. Among the best of them is the Castillo de Sohail.The present building dates from the 12th century and was built by the Almoravides - a Berber dynasty from the Sahara that spread over a wide area of Northwestern Africa and the Iberia during the 11th century. It has eight walls, reinforced by the same number of towers. In 1485 the castle was occupied by the Christian army which was fighting against the Nazari Kingdom of Granada. In the 16th century the entrance to the enclosure was in the north wall, not the main tower. One of the east towers was demolished to build a platform for cannons. In 1730 the Count of Montemar carried out new improvements in order to quarter a cavalry unit. Stables, stores and new quarters buildings were added. During the War of Independence, in 1810, the castle was occupied by the French army but was abandoned two years later in the retreat. A few years later the castle lost its military function and was sold in auction. It began to fall into ruins until the 1950's.The current restoration began in 1989 when it was incorporated into the Municipal Heritage. It was to incorporate a large centre where artistic shows could be held as well as being open to the public. A large amount of external lighting has also been added and the effect at night is beautiful.

Friday, 13 February 2009


It's that time of year again. We 'screwed our courage to the sticking place' this morning, took our car for it's annual MOT and are now anxiously waiting for the call to tell us how much it is going to cost us to keep on the road for another year. We'll see........!
more animals

Wednesday, 11 February 2009


I can't remember the last time we had such a long-lasting cold snap. This morning, Malcolm and I went for a shortish walk as it was doing it's best to rain/sleet/snow or whatever. It was still very icy under foot and the paths, although mostly clear of ice or snow now, were still treacherous in parts. No more so than where the water had flowed over the path and refrozen over night.
The drainage ditches beside the paths were still frozen and there were patches of virgin snow dotted amongst the dead grasses. In places the puddles had frozen over more than once and the water underneath had dropped a little between freezings. The result was a filigree, layered effect like frozen, transparent puff-pastry.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


It is easy to overlook the everyday or mundane. For instance, our walk this morning in the sunshine and up to our ankles in the slush and water of a rapid thaw, revealed an extraordinary number of bird species. Most of them would not have commanded a second look normally, but it just proves what we all miss by ignoring what’s right in front of our eyes every day.
In all I counted 32 different species this morning, a full list and a pictorial representation follows.
Cormorant, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Mallard, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Coot, Moorhen, Lapwing, Black-headed Gull, Woodpigeon, Collard Dove, Dunnock, Wren, Robin, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Redwing, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Starling, Magpie, Carrion Crow, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Siskin, Goldfinch and Reed Bunting.Click the picture for a clearer (and larger) view. Some individual Pictures from here, others, my own.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Look behind you

It's always best to be aware of what's going on around you - not forgetting behind!But I bet the roses were the best they had ever been......!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Da Vinci

Having recently re-read Dan Brown's blockbuster novel 'The Da Vinci Code', I have today bought the DVD to see if the film lives up to the book. I know that among the worlds literary elite, it is not fashionable to like Dan Brown's novels but nevertheless I find them all enormously entertaining. It has all got me thinking of the work of Leonardo Da Vinci and the other renaissance artists.

Born Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci on April 15, 1452 the illegitimate son of a notary, Piero da Vinci, and a peasant woman, Caterina he perhaps didn't have the best start in life but that was all soon to change. Leonardo was educated in the studio of the renowned Florentine painter, Verrocchio. Much of his earlier working life was spent in the service of Ludovico il Moro in Milan. He later worked in Rome, Bologna and Venice and spent his last years in France, at the home awarded him by King François I.

It has been suggested that his most famous painting, The Mona Lisa is, in fact a self portrait. A theory which has been given some credibility by modern scientific methods comparing it with his self portrait in red chalk as an old man painted around 1515. No doubt Leonardo would have greatly approved of the scientific interest his paintings have created and all the speculation and intrigue would have amused him also. Compare the two pictures and see what you think!
Far more information is available HERE.

Saturday, 7 February 2009


A nice walk of a little under 5 miles this morning. Up Shipley hill towards the Nottingham lodge, downhill towards Shipley Village and returning via the abandoned theme park, Ilkeston Hospital and Heanor road. Quite a lot of the snow has now melted - although there is still plenty left - but after last night's hard frost (down to -7C in our garden), the paths were treacherously slippery and it was pretty difficult keeping our feet.I see the forcast for tomorrow, which earlier in the week was supposed to be heavy snow, has been altered on the BBC website, to light rain - we'll see!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Some days......!

funny pictures of cats with captions
more animals

Is it me?

I am worried! It appears that I am turning into Victor Meldrew. It has been happening to me for years but recently the transformation has accelerated and it can only be a matter of days before I am to be seen standing on the front doorstep, shouting 'I don't believe it' at the top of my voice.
The events of yesterday only hastened this change. Leaving the snowball event to one side, we were waiting for a couple of spare parts for our central heating system to be delivered. They had been delivered the day before, but of course we were out at the time and the parcel had been taken back to the depot. I called round to the depot later in the day to collect it but was informed that " hadn't come back yet.." How the postman in the office knew this without checking or even looking at the card remains a mystery, but I arranged for them to re-deliver it the following morning.
By early afternoon the parcel still hadn't arrived so, leaving Malcolm at home in case it did, I again went to the depot to see what was happening. I arrived to witness another couple of people arguing with the postman about why they had managed to get to work in the snow but not one of the postal delivery men had managed it!
Eventually they left, fuming and still without their post so I tried my luck. I explained the situation and asked if my parcel was still at the depot. The postman looked me in the eye and immediately lied to me saying " is on the van.." and " will be delivered as arranged.." After I pointed out that as the yard was still full of post vans that had obviously not been moved all day and asked him to check anyway, he reluctantly did so. He returned two minutes later with my parcel which I signed for and then left.

Getting home with the parcel I opened it, only to find that neither of the two parts were correct. So I phoned the company and spoke to what sounded like a teenage idiot who obviously would have rather been playing in the snow. After explaining that I had ordered the parts on-line from the original part numbers as printed in the actual manuals which came with the heating system, he informed me that "..we don't use those numbers.." I am not a great fan of being treated like some kind of pond-life, so the inference that it was all my fault and I should have known that this particular company uses some completely arbitrary system for labeling their parts, didn't go down too well. Eventually the idiot on the phone gave me a returns authorisation code and asked me to return the parts for a refund - which "..will take up to 30 days to process as they are very busy at this time of year.." Frankly, if none of their part numbers bare any resemblance to the actual part numbers, I am not surprised that their returns office is so busy.
So here we are, still without the spare parts needed for our heating system (which by the way, is working with a little persuasion), having spent money to send back the spare parts which I didn't order and waiting a month for our money back. Can nobody get anything right any more?

OK, end of rant!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Post Script

Further to the last entry, we have now had a visit from a CPSO and, luckily we pointed her in the direction of the culprits - who were still hanging around within sight of the house. She caught up with them, took their names and addresses and they all confessed! The CPSO has just left after calling back to keep us informed of developments and it turns out that she used to work with Malcolm many years ago. What a result! Lets hope that puts an end to our troubles.

Snow joke!

Returning briefly to the weather here and we awoke to a wonderful winter scene as more snow fell during the night.What a pity that by mid morning we were having to dial 999 to report a gang of youths hurling snow balls at our windows in a determined effort no doubt, to break them. Not that calling the Police did any good as at the time of writing this, they have still not responded and the youths have moved off! Probably, all the Police have taken the day off due to the 'bad weather'. The rest of the country seem to have done the same! What happened to good, old-fashioned common sense? Oh I forgot, we're not allowed to have any of that any more are we?

Wednesday, 4 February 2009


Back to Benidorm and a brief look at some of the flowers which were to be found in the middle of winter - albeit a bit warmer than an English winter. Firstly a beautiful Aeonium growing on the hillside near the Castell del Mar. The large, fluffy yellow flower heads almost glowed in the sun.Close to these and indeed found growing all over the place at this time of year are small, arum-like flowers called Friar's Cowl. Standing no more than four inches high, you need to get down to their level in order to appreciate them.In an ancient garden plot, sheltered from the winds was an old Almond tree just coming into bloom. Beautiful flowers which are often overlooked.Back to the yellow theme and very common plants in flower during the winter are members of the pea family known as Rush-like Scorpion Vetch. Rush-like because of their almost leafless stems looking more like rushes than shrubs. They are called 'Scorpion Vetches' because their seed pods are lobed and bare a resemblance to scorpions tails.Another common species now and a blue one known as Common Globularia. Small flowers but abundant and filled with many stamens.Looking a little lower and closer to the ground we found small White Rock-roses. No more than an inch across and with petals like white tissue, they look too delicate to withstand even a slight breeze, to say nothing of the gales we witnessed.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

A little change.

What a difference a week makes (and 1000 miles or so)! Last Tuesday Malcolm and I were sitting on the seafront in Benidorm enjoying our daily coffee, cake and brandy, warming ourselves in the sun and taking the mickey out of people walking by. A week later and here we are, struggling to keep our feet on the ice and snow, almost invisible under several layers of clothing and no doubt having the mickey taken out of us! But what a wonderful day for a walk it has been. The sun was shining, the snow was picturesque and it was still about -2C when we set out.Having said all that, it was still quite welcome to see the first, tentative signs that spring is just around the corner. Hazels and Alders are all bursting out into catkins and decorating the otherwise bare branches like candles on a Christmas tree.Not that these two individuals seemed to care too much last night......they were no doubt wishing the cold snap would last forever. And judging by the good time being had by their creator (our neighbour's young lad, Jack), he wouldn't have cared if it went on a little longer either!

Monday, 2 February 2009


A few miles inland from Benidorm is the small village of El Castell de Guadalest, or just Guadalest for short. An extraordinary village perched high on a mountain top overlooking the reservoir or 'Embalse de Guadalest'. Wonderfully picturesque, it is not surprising that it is a major draw for tourists.The village is dominated by the castle known as L'Alcazaiba or Sant Josep, built in the 11th century by the Moorish occupiers. It boggles the mind how it manages to cling on to the craggy topped mountain.The most famous view of the village has to be the white-washed bell tower which looms over the whole scene. The village has a permanent population of only around 200. Many more tourists though!

Sunday, 1 February 2009


About 13 miles north-east from Benidorm is the small seaside town of Calpe. Within the area is the Natural Park of Peñón de Ifach. This is a massive limestone outcrop rising out of the sea, with exclusive endemic plants and over 300 species of animals, including colonies of sea birds that use it as a nesting area.The rock soars to around 1090ft above the sea with vertical cliffs, overhanging rocks and a beautiful walkway around the bottom of it affording fantastic views.....upward!Gulls circle and cry high above you as you approach the end of the walk and are faced with the sheer face of the cliff and the sea crashing on the fallen rocks at the bottom. A beautiful and awe-inspiring sight.