Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A trip to Iona

Oh, I'm bored and missing that lovely Scottish island in the middle of nowhere.

A group of us from Richmond went up to Iona at the end of June for a week's programme led by community leader Kathy Galloway and artist Joyce Gunn Cairns, and to enjoy the Abbey. This has been my first visit since leaving at the end of 2006 and there is a world of difference in being a volunteer or being a guest. I quite enjoyed staying in one of the rooms I cleaned so many times, but generally it was really odd. Kind of knowing about the behind-of-scenes work but not being able to access it!

Iona is still gorgeous and amazing - even in the less than completely sunny weather that we had... I loved walking around so much familiar territory and seeing it all again. The special quality of that place really seeps into you and, again, it was a wrentch to leave. It was fun being up there with a group and there were plenty of interesting people to get to know over the course of the week.

We had a Deaf group with us and I think everybody learnt quite a few signs e.g. please/thank you, tea, coffee and milk, and the signs for Otter, Puffin, and Seal. Everyone gets assigned to one of these three groups for a meal and their task (I was an Otter) and these were repeated every meal so watching the signs via the interpreters made learning them almost inevitable. It was exciting having signers around and it definately rekindled my desire to carry on with learning more British Sign Language. One of the women from that group is an ordained minister and she and Kathy co-celebrated the last service in Iona Abbey, which is a communion service, and it was really beautiful. Hannah preached (with a voice over) and it is quite something to see a sermon!

On a trip to Staffa island we saw puffins! They are remarkable birds and always are so much smaller than I remember them to be, and a lot cuter too. The puffins like the humans around as we scare the gulls away and come out to pose for the cameras. I was also lucky enough to catch a quick glimpse of a corncrake on Iona. They are loud birds and keep up an fairly constant croaking but it is rare to see them. Even the RSPB website say they are "secretive"... When I was a volunteer on the island we had a weekly A4 publication called the Corncrake Crier so it was really fun to see one.

The programme we were on was called Dancing in Fire: exploring feminine images of God and people brought a lot to it and made it very interesting. It was so nice to meet interesting, opiniated people and do something completely out of the daily routine!

I miss being there.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Congratulations to Wales on becoming the first Fairtrade country in the world!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Birds and frogs

This is a very media friendly heron that was hanging out by the path at the Wetlands Centre. It took no notice of the massive lenses pointing at it (and my little dinky one from a camera I "borrow" from work whenever I forget to return it...) and kept a look out for frogs and other tasty morsels. There are a fair number of these grey birds around my neck of the Thames and at least it's easy to identify. I still struggle enormously to identify all/any of the wildfowl at the Centre despite having been there for over a year. I try to comfort myself with the fact that I rarely see them as we're always busy with the kids programme, but it is still a bit embarassing...

Here's a funny little fellow that lurks in the shed over the winter and gets (literally) wheeled out in the summer to entertain and edify. I helped wash it down the other day and it is quite remarkable. It has several boxes under the frog that store items like dead beetles and egg shells etc to bring out and show the public. It's quite heavy to get moving but once you do it's a lot of fun. As long as you aren't too distracted by a mammoth frog following you!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The joys of living by a river

I like this picture! It's taken by a friend and is quite magical. Next to the cars - under the water between the wooden posts and the scrub poking up from the water - is a footpath and the cars are in the Ham House carpark. It also has a slight feel of a car tv advert where the cars are poised before surfing in the waves or other such foolish things.

The Thames is tidal and a remarkable number of people do get caught out by that, myself included on a memorable occasion where we got stranded on a bench for several hours as the waters lapped around our feet. Keeping an eye on the tides is always a wise move.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A day on a boat

Throwing ropes like Shirley Bassey, the Lightman's Hitch also known as a Tugman's Hitch, Thames Hitch or Brentford Hitch, risk assessments in term of slot machine lemons, cups of tea, and a quick impromptu trip to empty the sewage tank at the neighbouring commercial boat launch...

These, and lots more, were part of the crew training day on the Richmond Venturer last Friday. It was such a fascinating day and I learnt loads. The two other new crew members I was training with had an amazing amount of experience of working on and with boats and could launch into all sorts of technical (ie. incomprehensible) talk at a drop of a hat which was rather intimidating at first. I have been on a few boats and even helped sail one, but that was years ago and I couldn't properly remember how to do any knots! But there was still a lot they learned too, and they were very friendly and kind to the boat novice (and didn't laugh at questions like "what is 'boat' for the back of the boat?" The answer is 'stern/aft'.).

I'm even more excited about going out on trips with the project now and hopefully I won't have to wait very long. The furthest upstream that the Venturer can go in Windsor Castle. After that the bridges get too low for her to go under. On day trips though she won't go that far up, usually up to Walton on Thames or there abouts. And our skipper is licensed to take the Richmond Venturer as far down the river as Putney. That is quite a range. And I'm ready to explore as much of it as I get the opportunity to do!

The training day didn't originally include any trips but we got a bonus little jaunt upstream under two bridges (from one side of Kingston to the next) and I got to throw a rope onto the jetty we came alongside. That was only a little thing but it felt such a responsibility! Thankfully I was able to execute my task with honour:)

Actually, the next time I'll be on a boat is next week Sunday when I'm going on a Batty Boat trip. We head out in the evening on a boat and look for bats - another of my current obsessions! I've been helping out on Bat Walks at the London Wetland Centre and learning loads there. I am looking forward to seeing and hearing what we will on the Thames.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Richmond Venturer

My next grand adventure will commence on Friday the 30th as I undergo a day's training to become a volunteer crew member of the boat Richmond Venturer. She is the main ingredient of The River Thames Boat Project and I'm increadibly excited about the whole prospect. Here's a shocking fact: I have spent just over a year now living next to the Thames and I still haven't made it onto the river!

This hopes to address the imbalance and dreadful state of affairs and it really is volunteer work in a direction that I want to be exploring. A recent trip to the London Aquarium left me feeling like the lapsed marine biologist that I am and added to the growing conviction that I want to do something about it. The Richmond Ventura takes school groups and other groups on board for trips and river education and is fully accessible to people with disabilities, so on the whole it sounds tremendously appealing.

I am going to have to practice my starboard from my port and start calling the kitchen the 'galley' and the toilets the 'heads' and all things nautical with weird names.

I wonder if "Ahoy matey!" and "Aye, aye Captain" are acceptable phrases on board...

Visits abroad

I'm licking the last remaining sugary goo off my fingers from a fragment of Brighton Rock that HM1 brought back with her yesterday from, well, Brighton. It's been ages since I had any, and it quite nicely rounds off a lovely weekend.

I trained it over to "Swampea" (as the predictive text on my phone calls the place) on Friday for a few days of catching up with friends and enjoying a joint 30th birthday party in a field. I went to the their joint 25th birthday party which makes me feel like I've been in the UK a really long time now... I had tasty Indonesian food on Friday and thoroughly enjoyed the warm sunny Saturday that I spent wandering around Mumbles and then onto Murton on the Gower.

I managed a visit to the Red Cafe to see them in action (ie overrun with toddlers!) and to fit in a years worth of news into an hour with one of the managers. A couple of weeks ago my flip flops came apart as I was cycling. This was a tragic event, if not entirely unexpected, as these were my favourite shoes and I had worn them almost exclusively for the past three summers. It can be very hard to replace items that command such respect but while in Mumbles I had a wave of genius: why not go to the same shop I bought the first pair from and get another... I am now the owner of another pair of flip flops and in the process of introducing my feet to them and I have high hopes of them lasting the next three years!

The party took place in glorious sunlight, with a lovely bbq, great massive tipii with a sound system and decks, a fire, lots of lovely people - and no bloomin' planes flying over my head! I felt completely relaxed and like I was on holiday plus I had a good dance. In fact I stayed up till the last song and saw the dawn come in. The music was a crazy mixture of childrens songs early in the evening, a live folk band, and whatever music the dj's fancied playing into the night. It was lovely to have so many families with children in the early afternoon/evening and see them all running around - about the same height as the grass - and pretending to be like the pigs on the land.

London really does have a sad lack of tipiis in fields and big open fires to gather around.

On Sunday I got the grand tour of two allotments of my University friends and I think I might have a grave case of "allotment envy". Although it did show up how very little I do know about gardening in general. I hope something will grow out the back in my titchy, tiny patch...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Roller coasters are definately not my thing

HM1 organised a youth trip to Thorpe Park today and we had a minibus full of people. I was roped into going along to the theme park as a "responsible adult" (he hee), which I don't object to per se. It's all them roller coasters that I'm not so keen on! In fact I hate most of them. Which does tend to make things a little tricky. I volunteered to go with the group that doesn't want to do the scary rides - but they still chose a whole bunch of rides that terrify me. I think I must've missed the bit in the youth worker training that taught one how to do roller coasters (along with the skill of playing pool - another excrutiatingly important youth worker skill that I never quite mastered...)

Another co-worker today made a passing comment about willingly facing up to one's mortality in these extreme moments. Okay, I can see where he's coming from just about. But I'm still struggling with the "why"... Now teacups, on the other hand, those I do like, but I'd be hard-pressed to find much morality in them! Youth worker or no, I still don't like roller coasters.