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1. Human parents (mine)

Their visit over the weekend went very well, and essentially consisted of us doing the things I'd said we were going to do in this post.

The play on Friday night was about what I'd expected in terms of quality - not high art, but enjoyable and a pleasant focus for an evening out. The theatre reminded me enormously of the Old Fire Station theatre in Oxford, except that the seating area was noticeably smaller, but this all made for a very intimate setting. Since the play was a 'three-hander', with most scenes consisting of intensely emotional conversations taking place in people's private rooms, this was rather suitable.

On Saturday, we drove up to the Giant's Causeway as planned, taking in the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and White Park Bay on the way (on advice from rentaghost31 and firefish), and following it up with a drive through the Glens of Antrim. We all especially enjoyed Carrick-a-Rede, where we sat high up on the island outcrop in the sun, watching the various soaring sea-birds who were nesting on the cliff-sides, and looking down into a crystal-blue sea which rivalled anything I've seen off any Greek island for sparkling clarity. Guillemots, Razor-bills, Fulmers, Kittiwakes, Eider ducks and various types of Gulls were all in evidence: I only know this because my parents, who are keen bird-watchers, told me, but apparently this is pretty exciting stuff if you are into this sort of thing. One thing which I was impressed by was the fact that we could clearly see the Guillemots diving down and using their wings to 'fly' under the water as they hunted for fish: but probably mainly because this emphasised for me just how very clear the water was. The whole island was also covered with a beautiful array of tiny wild summer flowers, although I'm afraid I have no idea what any of them were called.

After Carrick-a-Rede, we picnicked in White Park Bay, and then went on to the Giant's Causeway. From the cliff-top path above, this looked rather mediocre, and I wondered to myself how anyone could ever have come up with stories about it being built by a Giant. However, once we'd looped round and come up to the thing itself, I lost my scepticism, and could see very well how legends about it being the start of a superhuman building project had arisen. We scrambled around on it for a while, but then it started to rain and everything got very slippery, so we beat a hasty retreat onto more solid ground. In the National Trust gift-shop at the top of the path, we had scones and coffee, and I bought a CD of Thirties dance jazz to go with another similar compilation I bought recently on Ebay and have been really enjoying: this seems to be another musical craze I'm going through at the moment, inspired chiefly by the soundtrack to Jeeves & Wooster.

Finally, we drove along cliff-tops for a bit, and then through the glens towards Ballymena, where we rounded off the day with a hearty Chinese meal (including, natch, crispy duck pancakes for me). I was really struck on this part of the drive by how very much the geography of the whole area reminded me of the locations featured in The Wicker Man - not surprising, really, given that we were only just on the other side of a narrow stretch of water from the very part of south-west Scotland where the film was made.

We returned the hire car on the Sunday morning, and then proceeded at a leisurely pace toward the Crown for our lunch. The food here was unfortunately only so-so: fairly obviously, the setting of the pub is spectacular enough to mean that they don't need to serve particularly good food. We then poked around the town centre for a while, before returning to my flat for dinner before my parents had to leave for their plane.

It was definitely great to see them again, especially since I only spent a very brief time with them at Easter, and all three of us seemed to enjoy the weekend very much.

2. Blackbird parents (also, obviously, my personal property)

The other big news of the moment is that my blackbirds' chicks have hatched! I discovered this on Sunday, when I took my parents into my office on the way to the pub to show them the nest (knowing that, as bird-fanciers, they'd be interested). At first, we thought the female was still incubating, but then the male arrived with some worms, and she got up off the nest to reveal three healthy little chicks, with their beaks gaping open for their dinner. Since I could never see more than three eggs in the nest (although the viewing angle means that there might have been a fourth one hidden by the nest edge), I'm taking this to mean that all of the eggs have probably hatched successfully.

The next stage, of course, is getting them to the point of learning to fly. According to sites such as this, the process should take about two weeks after hatching (which must have occurred on Friday or Saturday). What worries me slightly about this is that because the nest has been built in a light well, about 12 feet down from the top edges of the surrounding walls, the chicks will actually have to stay in the well until they have learnt to fly strongly enough to get up and over the top of it. This probably isn't ideal: although it is normal for blackbird chicks to stay on the ground near the nest for two to three weeks after they have first fluttered out of it (fear my Google-acquired blackbird expertise!), the floor of the well is concrete, so they can't be learning to dig up their own worms during this time. However, the well is generally a pretty safe place, since no humans or other animals ever go into it, so hopefully the parents will compensate by continuing to bring lots of extra worms, and encouraging the chicks to get up and out of it as soon as possible.

I'm normally not that bothered about birds, but as both Carrick-a-Rede and the excitement of my front-row seat at the blackbird nesting process have demonstrated, I can get interested when they're either underlining the beauty of a natural setting, or close enough to me that I can get personally involved with them.

Regular Blackbird Bulletins will continue as there is more news, and anyone in Belfast is welcome to pop round to my office and have a look at them if they're interested.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 24th, 2005 05:40 pm (UTC)
Glad you had a nice day away with your parents, and I can't wait to see the blackbirds! I may have a free hour or so on Thursday if you want to go for coffee - or we could just sit in your office and chat about all things Harry Potter and Dr Who :D

Incidentally, my father (who is over halfway through OotP now) was really upset today in work when someone said they thought Dumbledore might die in the sixth book. He's taken this to mean that Dumbledore will actually die!!! :)
May. 24th, 2005 05:44 pm (UTC)
Either would be fine - I can make coffee in my office if you like. Anyway, you should certainly pop in to see the birds, even if we then go elsewhere.

Glad to hear your Dad's getting so wrapped up in it!
May. 25th, 2005 03:46 pm (UTC)
That would be great, Friday would probably suit me best as due to various factors I'm busy at lunchtimes each day this week so I'll be in touch.

Hehe, you should hear him bitching about Umbridge :D And he is going to be SO shocked next week (I predict he'll finish it by then) when he finds out who does die...
May. 25th, 2005 04:32 pm (UTC)
OK, but on Friday we will have to have either our coffee or our lunch in my office, as I'll have students come by all day to pick up essays. None of them should interrupt us for long, but I definitely need to be in.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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