Monday, May 29, 2006

The Prisonbear: Stalemate

Prisonbear 2 has now been released. Number 2 (previously Mr Hankey the Christmas Poo) is replaced by Winnie the Pooh.

Here's my post on episode 1: The Prisonbear: Revival

Both episode 1 and episode 2 are now available at google video as well.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The HOA Pool

Now that summer's here, the community swimming pool is open. The sun is hot, the water is cold. Here's a few pictures (and a little movie):

Emily swimmingMark swimmingMark, Emily and LaurenEmily

Here's the Video clip.

This all goes to show that the H.O.A. spend our money on something more than leafleting and sending stroppy letters. It's a great facility. It makes us feel that we're constantly on holiday (vacation).

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Is Mark Heap a Comic Genius, Or What?

I first saw Mark Heap back in the late 1990s in the British comedy Spaced, which I very much enjoyed, but which unfortunately didn't manage a third series. Over the years, he's cropped up in various comedies, but it is not until recently, in his role as Dr Alan Statham, the Consultant Radiologist in Green Wing, that I have begun to grasp the fact that his slapstick comedy abilities are actually genius. Green Wing is as groundbreaking a comedy as The Office (click here for the US version) and only fails in that it may alienate some audiences by its overtly adult content.

We've recently realised that the first series of Green Wing is now available on BBC America. If you decide to watch it, also look out for Sue White, the Staff Liaison Officer, played by Michelle Gomez. Very funny.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Eurovision: The Verdict

As last year's winner was Greece, this year's Eurovision came out to us from Athens, with the hosts flying onto the stage like Greek gods. As mentioned previously, now that we are living in America, we had to watch it as a video stream over the internet. The picture was quite pixilated, but the sound quality was very good. It did keep freezing if we tried downloading the latest Dr Who at the same time, so we had to hold off on that until after the contest was over. There were no adverts, just footage of Greece between songs. There was also no Terry Wogan commentary (I'm not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing). It was funny watching it in the afternoon (3-6pm) instead of at night (8-11pm). As children we were allowed to stay up and watch it as a special treat, if we were good.

But what of the contestants?

Finalists this year were:

Armenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, FYR Macedonia, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova, Norway, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom

Those who didn't make it to the final were:

Albania, Andorra, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Iceland, Netherlands, Monaco, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia

Note the complete absence of some countries -- Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Luxemburg. What happened to them? Perhaps they've fallen out with the whole Eurovision Song Contest phenomenon?

For the uninitiated: the way it works is that each country collects telephone votes, then gives points to the top ten countries in their poll -- 12 points, 10 points, 8 points, 7 points ... 1 point. The winner is the one with the most points by the end. Obviously, a country cannot give itself points.

We decided to enter into the spirit of the thing by rating each song. They were either Turkeys, So-So, or Good. The terms are relative to the fact that we are talking about the Eurovision Song Contest, so the category "Good" can be interpreted to mean "my ears didn't start to bleed"; "So-So" means "my blood didn't curdle" and "Turkey" means "I'd rather listen to Vogon poetry". Bear in mind, as well, that after a few songs, one's critical faculties are eroded so that even the worst songs start sounding not too bad, or quite good. Either way, all discernment goes.

The Goodacre favourites were Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Ukraine.

The runaway winner was Finland, with 292 points, followed by Russia with 248 points and Bosnia & Hertzegovina with 229. There were no "nil points" this year, with Malta managing to scrape a lone point towards the end. The UK, despite delivering what was obviously the best song and the best performance (perhaps a bit of bias here?), managed to scrape a measly 25 points, eight of which came from Ireland and one from Poland (I guess they've almost forgotten WW2 by now).

When I was a child, the contest tended to be a bit more balanced. Since the breakup of Yugoslavia and the USSR, however, the contest has been mainly dominated by Eastern Europe. The increase in the number of countries in Europe has also meant that heats have had to be introduced to reduce the number of countries in the final. The other interesting thing is that neighbouring countries tend to vote for each other. Every year, all the former Yugoslavia countries vote for each other; Ukraine always gives 12 points to Russia, but Russia doesn't always reciprocate; and Cyprus and Greece always give each other 12 points.

As Finland won, next year there are likely to be lots of outlandish costumes and heavy metal entries. Looking forward to it.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Father Ted -- My Lovely Horse
Ted and Dougal
It's that time of year again -- summer's here. The outdoor swimming pools are open; another Big Brother is underway (for Brits); and the whole of Europe lay down their arms and take their grudges/allegiances to the ultimate European court -- The Eurovision Song Contest. Every year, the whole of Europe vies for this most coveted of all prizes and the chance to host the contest the following year (except maybe Ireland who won three years in a row and probably only lost in the fourth year because they already had their hat-trick and were sick of having to host it anyway -- who can forget Fathers Ted and Dougal's entry My Lovely Horse? (Dream Version; video)).

Here's what Mark has to say:

Like the late great John Peel, I've always been a big fan of Eurovision. The Eurovision Song Contest is a wonderful old institution launched back in 1956, making this year's the 51st contest. It takes place before a massive European television audience on a Saturday night in May (though it used to be April) every year. Twenty-something countries each select a song from their own national heats and each country performs it on the night in front of the live audience. In recent years, as the number of countries in Europe has expanded, they have also introduced a semi-final heat to keep the number of countries in the final down to about 24 or so. The host each year is the country to have won it the previous year. The most famous winners ever are ABBA, who won it for Sweden with Waterloo in 1974. I didn't watch that one myself, though I did see ABBA live a full five years later, at Wembley Arena in November 1979 (when Gimme Gimme Gimme was in the charts). I think the first one I watched was in 1977, and I've watched it most years since, though there was a hiatus in my college years because (a) Eurovision was massively uncool in the 1980s and (b) staying in on a Saturday night was even more uncool.

There are many pleasures involved in watching Eurovision, but it is not easy to explain the attraction to those who have not experienced it. It's certainly not about the musical quality. Many of the songs are pretty grim, including often the UK's entry, especially the year when poor old Jemini got 0 (nil) points (2003). [The song was bad, but not that bad. It was when the Iraq war had just begun, to most of the rest of Europe's dismay. We in the UK, while acknowledging that the song was not very good, saw "nil points" as a bit of a protest to the Iraq war. It was a blow to our pride as we always used to laugh at countries that got "nil points". (Ed.)]

John Peel always used to say that he loved the scoring, and I must admit that that is my favourite bit, where each country reads out the result of its own voting in English and French, and the scoreboard is adjusted as the votes get totted up. The character of the Eurovision as a UK television experience is all about Terry Wogan's now legendary commentary. He's been doing it for years and Viola and I went through a phase of finding it annoying, but have now realized that he is what makes it.

So, this is our first Eurovision since moving to America, but are we going to be able to view it? To be honest, I'd completely forgotten about it until I was looking at the BBC1 website tonight to check for the times for Doctor Who (second part of an great story on the Cybermen) and I noticed the big spread for Eurovision. Naturally, I began wondering how we would be able to view it over here. It seems that there is not much hope for watching it live on air. Others in the US have apparently been asking themselves the same question, as a page of Google Answers testifies. According to one of those comments, those with DirecTV have the best chance of getting it live, by tuning in to one of the European channels available on that satellite system. But we have Time Warner Cable (as well as some holes in the roof left by the Dishman), which is no good. On occasions like this, we turn to the internet and the good news is that there is a solution available. Eurovision TV provide a Live Webcast of the final:

Eurovision: Live Webcast

You have to download the Octoshape plug-in but it promises a high quality, 700kbps stream, which is a good deal better than the one I received for the cricket on Willow TV, which is perfectly adequate. So, it looks like we'll be plugging the laptop into the telly again and at 3pm Eastern Time, it'll be time to make the chilli popcorn and glue ourselves to the settee for three hours of Eurovision entertainment. And the UK entry from Daz Sampson, surely has a fine chance of success -- it's a very catchy tune, and it has a gimmick. Go Daz!

March 9, 2007

When I first published this post, I could only get a couple of audio clips of My Lovely Horse. Since then, YouTube has become flooded with Father Ted posts, so I decided to retrospectively add a couple of links.

Here's Ted and Dougal practicing:

Here's the dream version:

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Hawaiian-Themed Father-Daughter Dance

While fathers and daughters from all over the neighbourhood lived it up with pizza, ice-cream and a pineapple on each table (just to give the school hall a Hawaiian ambiance), poor ol' mothers everywhere had to sit around at home and feel left out. Here's some photos:

Emily, Mark and Lauren before the dance
Emily, Mark and Lauren before the dance
Lauren has a piggy-back ride with her friend
Lauren has a piggy-back ride with her friend

Emily enjoys a quiet drink
Emily enjoys a quiet drink
Emily enjoys a drink
Emily enjoys another quiet drink (or is it the same one?)

Some nutter managed to gatecrash
Some nutter managed to gatecrash
Lauren and friend
Lauren and her friend


A great time was had by all (except, of course, Mum).

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Other Guy

Have you caught the absolutely hilarious gaff on BBC News 24? They were covering the ruling in the court battle between Apple Records and Apple Computers and were supposed to interview Guy Kewney (a computing expert and journalist). Instead, they managed to get a guy (named Guy Goma, a Business Studies graduate from the Congo), who was waiting in the BBC Reception to be interviewed for an IT position. In a case of mistaken identity, the poor man was led to the News 24 studio, wired up, and asked his opinion live on air.

The best bit is watching his face as the interviewer introduces him. Priceless! When she then turns to the on-the-street correspondent and asks him his opinion, he says something to the effect of, "Well, pretty much what we've heard just there ...." So, the reporter was happy to agree with a poor bloke who thought he'd come for a job interview, found himself on live TV, and was winging it for all he was worth.

What was the real Guy Kewney doing while all this was going on? He was sitting in the BBC Reception, watching the other Guy being interviewed.

The clip is all over the internet, but here's one of the links, taken from the real Guy Kewney's blog:

Interview with the fake Guy (clip)

And here's a bit more information (also good for a laugh). The first three links are to the real Guy Kewney's blog and they chart his reactions from disbelief, to anger, to having a laugh at the BBC's expense:

Really, what matters is that the BBC doesn't look stupid...
That BBC video: the cab driver who edits Newswireless and lectures on iPods...
That "Guy" - he really is a Guy, and not a cab driver, either!
On-Air BBC Mixup Brings New Meaning to "Instapundit"
Guy Kewney, News 24 And The 'Other Guy Kewney'

May 17, 2006

Instead of just apologising and leaving it, BBC News 24 (not wanting to miss the bandwagon) decided that if everyone else is laughing at them, they may as well join in and embarrass themselves further. They decided to interview Guy Goma. The interview was intended to be a light-hearted jabbing at Guy Goma, with questions along the lines of "Why didn't you say that you weren't Guy Kewney?" (my paraphrase, not a direct quote), but came across as condescending. They obviously weren't listening to the man either, as they asked him the same questions more than once. This video clip is an interview with Guy Goma and a telephone interview with Guy Kewney. It is a very poor interview indeed. News 24 don't seem to realise that we're laughing at them, not with them.

Here's the clip:
Guy Goma interveiw on News 24

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Graduation at Duke

Mark has is first Graduation Ceremony at Duke today, at which he's having to give a speech. He's written a US Graduation cf. UK Graduation post on his blog, which you might enjoy reading:
A Brit at Duke: Reflections of an Alien Professor

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Roast Bush

This is old news. Although I've been aware of it, I haven't had time to blog on it. Have you seen Stephen Colbert's in-character speech at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner? What I'd like to know is this -- how did he get booked, and has the person who booked him been sacked?

Thanks to Grish, at The Weekly View, for providing the link to
The full Colbert speech.

I also enjoyed watching The Daily Show's take on Ray McGovern confronting Rumsfeld and how CNN handled it.

Grish has a few more related links, so take a look.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

How to cope without British TV and Radio: Cricket Supplement Update

An update from Mark:

In my previous post, How to cope without British TV and Radio: Cricket Supplement, I wrote:

Of course to get to that point you first have to have a Dish, so we have made the switch from the more expensive Time Warner Cable to Dish, and our new system is to be installed on Wednesday. In theory, therefore, I should be able to get up early on Thursday morning (5.45 a.m. ET start) and watch live cricket from Lords. It's a mouth-watering prospect, but I tend to be pretty pessimistic, believe-it-when-I-see-it, with exciting things like this, so I have made the decision not to look forward to it yet.

a hole in our lawnAnd what a good decision that turned out to be because it has, indeed, all gone pear shaped. We waited in this afternoon for the installation of our new Dish system and not long after 2 pm, just before the UEFA Cup Final was about to kick off (Middlesborough V. Sevilla, which I was going to try to catch on FSC), our Dish guy arrived and began surveying the property for where to put the dish. He decided pretty quickly on a fairly prominent spot on our front lawn. I didn't think too much of it, but realized I'd better consult Viola. As it turned out, she was not at all keen, and I became convinced too that it was not a great place. The Dish guy said that it was the only possible place on the entire property, though, because the trees blocked the signal everywhere else. An hour or so later, with the dish in place, I had to admit that it did look more ugly than I'd imagined and, moreover, it seemed likely that we'd soon be receiving a letter from our Home Owners Association about the newly arrived monstrosity.

Holes in our eaves
"Holy holes-in-our-eaves
But there was a further twist. The Dish guy found power lines and decided he could not put the dish there after all. He then went round to the back of the house and began knocking holes in our roof. A little longer and he announced that it was not going to be possible to get a signal there either and, after his boss came round to confirm the impossibility of the installation, he packed up everything and left. No new satellite system. No cricket for Mark. [But with a brand new poorly repaired hole in our lawn and several large holes in the eaves of our roof -- thanks Dish! (Ed.)]

And there, you might think, the story ends. No Dish, no cricket.

I started writing this update to my original post for Viola's blog and I was beginning to comment on the compensations -- the things I still had to look forward to in this cricket-free summer. I had heard that it would be possible to get the forthcoming Ashes series on broadband via Direct TV. On returning to their site to check up the links so that I could include this in the blog post, I followed a link to Willow TV, the distributors of the previously mentioned Direct TV Tour coverage.

And what can I say but "Eureka!"?

Emily caught a toad
During the kerfuffle Emily
caught a toad (inexplicably
named Mr Froggy)
It turns out that Willow TV, "a portal for broadcasting premier sporting events", are also streaming "England Summer 2006" from Dish. Goodness only knows how few subscribers they must have since I have spent an absurd amount of time investigating such things, and nowhere did I find reference to this service. I stumbled across it in the course of writing this post. So now I have subscribed to Willow TV's broadband service and though the quality is not quite as high as what I'd be getting from the satellite dish, it looks pretty good. And I'll be able to watch it on the TV by plugging my laptop in to it, or on one of our computers, even at work (shh!).

What a result! I get to watch the cricket, and we don't have the eye-sore dish in our front garden. And one further comment -- the good news on the commentary front is that I am reliably informed that one can pick up Test Match Special for home tests on the net, in spite of the fact that one can't for the tours. So I look forward to tuning in to Aggers, Blowers and co. tomorrow.

May 12, 2006

Good news. The Willow TV coverage was not at all bad. The broadband feed was about 340 kbps, though they promise the availability of a feed at 500 kbps. The quality was fine, about as good as, say, the better BBC News Player programmes (e.g. This Week, which we also watched tonight while doing chores), but nothing like as strong as a normal TV signal. I fed it through the TV without difficulty, but it was not a widescreen picture. I wonder if the Sky Sports feed is in widescreen in the UK? Channel 4 had such a glorious widescreen coverage last year. I also had it on on the laptop, of course, and later on the desktop. Watching cricket via broadband makes it much more portable.

The most entertaining thing about the Willow TV coverage, which is drawn direct from Dish TV, is that the feed is taken not direct from Sky but via India's ESPN Live channel. So the TV has the ESPN logo throughout and also the Dish TV logo. In other words, it is the basic Sky Sports coverage featuring Gower, Botham, Bumble et al, but at the end of the over, the advertisements are for Indian products and aimed at India. For once, I found myself almost as interested in the advertisements between overs as in the cricket itself.

As a big fan of Test Match Special, I was delighted to discover that it is in fact possible to catch the commentary on-line in glorious quality all day (and nice to see that they'd grabbed Boycott from Channel 4, and that Sky had grabbed Atherton. No showing for Mark Nicholas, though). I had the TMS commentary on alongside the Willow/Dish/ESPN/Sky pictures for some of the day, but it seems that the Willow feed is a good 10-15 seconds behind the live TMS commentary. In some ways, it's an advantage -- you hear Blowers announcing a glorious 4 hit by Trescothick and you can then scamper over to the PC to catch it before it happens. I wonder if there is the same time lag between Sky and BBC? Presumably, the time lag is increased on its journey from England to India to the USA to my PC!

Also quite peculiar was the feeling of a home test match happening at 6 in the morning our time. It made it feel like a tour match, but it was at Lords. Very disconcerting!

May 13, 2006

Several fresh things to report on this story:

(1) The exciting Indian feed that I mentioned yesterday, which saw the signal originating with Sky Sports, going to India's ESPN Live, then to Dish TV and finally to Willow TV, was today past news. Today it was straight from Sky Sports to Dish TV to Willow TV, and gone were the Indian advertisements in between overs. In fact all there was between overs was a holding page, "Summer of Cricket 2006; Dish TV Pay Per View". The time lag on the feed seemed much shorter too, now about a ball away from the TMS commentary as opposed to two yesterday.

(2) Willow TV also now have the 500 kbps feed available, mentioned yesterday. And they have the most remarkable interactive scorecard. You can click on anything on the card and watch the video highlights, e.g. wickets, boundaries, etc. Technology at its best!

(3) I had not realized that there is also a little fun to be had at the site of Five's cricket coverage. As many will know, Five now have the rights in the UK to show one highlights package a day, featuring the old Channel 4 team of Mark Nicholas, Geoffrey Boycott and Simon Mann. Of course one cannot view the highlights on-line, but Five has put together a good site including a 2 minute broadband clip of Simon Mann introducing the day's play, well worth watching: Simon Hughes Video Analysis.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Points of Interest

1) Here's a "news report" at Here's the Thing that you might find quite funny:
Joke for the Day

2) You may also like to take a look at The Anglo-File, Too's pictures of Brum -- Cannon Hill Park, where we've spent many a happy day; an old church in Northfield; and the canal system in town and a potted history of the Industrial Revolution. It makes me feel rather nostalgic.

3) Have you seen/heard Sham 69's World Cup song Hurry Up, England (a rewrite of Hurry Up, Harry)? The link here is to The Mail on Sunday, who have it as a windows media file. We saw them perform it on Newsnight (downloaded from the BBC). Excellent!

How to cope without British TV and Radio: Cricket Supplement

Here's another supplement to Mark's now famous series of posts:

In the first of my posts in the series How to cope without British TV and Radio (see also Part 2; Part 3 and Football Supplement), I included a paragraph about cricket:

Cricket is initially more of a problem, but I think I've found the solution. It seems that Dish Network has the rights to the UK test matches for the next four years or so, and the good news is that Dish is much cheaper than Time Warner Cable. It'’s around $30 a month. You have to pay a premium, something like $70-$90 for the cricket for the season, but since that is now also the case in the UK too, with Sky taking the home test matches, it's not so much of a big deal. So at some point soon we are going to be making the switch. It's a fantastic thought that I will still be able to watch cricket in the summer. I could hardly hope for more.

Well, the time has now come to take action, and it turns out that this is the most expensive so far of all the different methods of coping without British TV and radio, but it should be worth it. The test series against Sri Lanka begins on Thursday coming, May 11 (is it just me or are the test matches getting earlier every year? It seems like the season has hardly even begun), and it is indeed the case that Dish Network have the rights in America. Details are at Dish Pay Per View: Sport Listing and see also Dish Network Programming Pay Per View Cricket and Summer of Cricket schedule. It's more expensive than I had realized (above), but apparently $199.95 gets you all seven test matches (three v. Sri Lanka and four v. Pakistan) and a bunch of One Day Internationals too. (I am take it or leave it with the One Days, but heck, if it's in with the price, all the better). Of course to get to that point you first have to have a Dish, so we have made the switch from the more expensive Time Warner Cable to Dish, and our new system is to be installed on Wednesday. In theory, therefore, I should be able to get up early on Thursday morning (5.45 a.m. ET start) and watch live cricket from Lords. It's a mouth-watering prospect, but I tend to be pretty pessimistic, believe-it-when-I-see-it, with exciting things like this, so I have made the decision not to look forward to it yet.

But $199.95 for the test cricket is not too bad given that if we were still in the UK, we'd be paying for it for the first time this summer too. Sadly (because their coverage was so good), Channel 4 (Sunset and Vine) lost the rights last summer and now the only way to watch live test matches in the UK is to subscribe to Sky Sports. We used to have Telewest when we were in Birmingham, and it seems that they are charging £22 a month for Sky Sports (in addition to all the other charges), so at £100 for the summer, it's not a lot different from the $199.95 we will be paying. At this point, I have no idea what the Dish Network coverage will be like but I'd assume that they simply grab the Sky Sports coverage and take that over direct for all eight of us in the US who will be watching. What Fox Soccer Channel do with the football is to take over the Sky commentary but to repackage it with their own introductions and conclusions.

Speaking of the paucity of cricket fans on this side of the Atlantic, it is unremarkable to see how little there is on the web for American cricket lovers. The international cricket site, CricInfo, has a nice article on Cricket in America: An Historical Survey, from which this is an excerpt:

The first cricket clubs in the USA were established in the 1700s, not long after they made their first appearance in England. Originally played by officers of the British Army with local landed gentry predisposed to be Anglophiles, cricket became a major recreation of American gentlemen of leisure...and indeed, several Founding Fathers of the United States were known to be avid cricketers---John Adams among them, who stated in the US Congress in the 1780s that if leaders of cricket clubs could be called "presidents", there was no reason why the leader of the new nation could not be called the same!

The article goes on to explain how the sport declined in the US at the turn of the century; it remained "stubbornly elitest" at a time when baseball was taking over the American scene. The article claims (and I have not checked the validity of these claims) that baseball "created its independent mythology, and obviated the sport that gave it birth. In a few decades, cricket in America had become only a memory."

Current American cricket websites include, the United States of America Cricket Association and Cricket for America, all of which do a great job, but these are all focused on playing the game. I am delighted to see that interest here, but there is next to nothing for those of us who would love to be players but who are not, on account of being so rubbish. The last time I played cricket was for our Dept of Theology cricket team in Birmingham, captained by Professor David Parker, and I came back injured or exhausted after each match and haven't played since. What is lacking over here is anything for those of us for whom cricket is all about watching others do the hard work, while enjoying a beer in the sunshine. On the off-chance that there are others like me, stranded in the States and missing the sights and sounds of first class cricket, I've set up a Yahoo!Group for English Cricket Fans in America. You never know, there might just be others out there, and I'd be interested to hear how others have coped. For one thing, what about Test Match Special? In the winter, it was unavailable over the net here, and I am guessing that the same is going to be true this summer. Is there any way around it?

May 10, 2006

An update to this post can be found at:
How to cope without British TV and Radio: Cricket Supplement Update

Friday, May 05, 2006

My First Snake

A very excited Memory watching the snakeDo you remember, back in November, my blog on Snakes and Spiders? I hate the idea of sharing my back garden with snakes, but when we moved here, I decided that I would not over-react, but would educate myself and my family and take a few cues from what the natives do. Up until now, I have only seen a small snake that had been flattened by a car. The breaking news is that I have now seen my first live snake.

A Black Rat Snake on our deckingThere is a local saying here -- "April-May, Stay Away." April and May are the months when the snakes (which are active for about 8 months of the year) are at their most active. It is their breeding season. It is the time of year when they are looking for somewhere to lay their eggs or have their babies and it is also the time of year when they are most likely to bite first and run (or should I say "slither"?) away later. Therefore, the rule is -- stay out of the woods in April and May. My neighbour had also told me that snakes have been known to nest in the crawl space under the house in past years.

The cats watch the snake intentlyI had also been told that naphthalene mothballs are very good for keeping snakes away. After a little research, I found out that naphthalene is the main ingredient in Snake-A-Way, the market-leading snake repellent. So, back in early April, I scattered a load of moth balls around the crawl space under our house to discourage snakes. (Because our house is built on a hill, the crawl space is big enough to stand up in and has a full size door leading into it. It also has a half-built extra room in it, which we thought we might finish-off and turn into a games room when we get around to it.) I also scattered one or two around the house, but they were just a few and have probably long since washed away. I didn't want to scatter them around the house too much because the chemical can be harmful to wildlife.

A Black Rat Snake on our deckingOur first realisation that there was a snake outside the window was when the cat (Memory) knocked over a table lamp. Upon investigating, we discovered that it was because she had been startled by a snake. As this was not only the first live snake that I've seen since being here, but the first wild live snake that I've seen other than in zoos, I grabbed my camera as quickly as I could and went totally snap-happy. I'm sure that future snakes will not get the same amount of attention, but this one got the full-blown paparazzi treatment.

As you can see, it's not a venomous snake, but even non-venomous snakes can bite (not to mention the fact that they totally creep me out), so I wasn't going to go outside to take my pictures. A quick google later and I found a web site for identifying snakes. It turns out that this one was a Black Rat Snake. They breed twice a year -- in April to June and in the Fall. They often climb trees and eat small rodents, birds and birds' eggs.

I have to say, though, that although seeing my first snake was quite exciting, I think that it calls for a few more moth balls to be scattered around the perimeter of the house. Alternatively, as it is not washed away by rain and a single treatment lasts for about three months I may invest in some Snake-A-Way.

Here's a few more shots:
A Black Rat Snake on our deckingA Black Rat Snake on our deckingA Black Rat Snake on our deckingA Black Rat Snake on our deckingA Black Rat Snake on our deckingAnother Black Rat Snake on our decking
(The criss-cross effect is due to many of the photos having been taken through windows with mesh on them. The last of the pictures is of another, slightly smaller snake that came along about half an hour later.)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Memories of May Day

Today, I received an email from an old friend who lives in Oxford (England), wishing me a happy May Day. This took me right back to the good ol' days -- summer days spent punting (usually from the Cherwell Boathouse) to the Victoria Arms for a few pints, then punting back; or picnics in the University Parks; or getting kebabs from the kebab vans to eat on the way home after pub closing time.

May Morning was another fond memory. Many of the Oxford colleges will have had their balls the night before, so many of those gathered on Magdalen Bridge were those who had been up all night partying. I've never been to a ball, though. On more than one occasion, Mark and I had toyed with the idea of going to a ball, but always ended up deciding that the money could be better spent. I would have just been up all night chatting over a quiet drink with friends and drifting in and out of sleep.

Then, when sunrise was approaching, off we'd toddle, to Magdalen Bridge, ready for the Magdalen College School choir to sing madrigals from the top of the Magdalen College tower at about 6am. In those days, there wasn't all the nonsense of people jumping off the bridge like there is today. Back then, you'd get two or three people stripping down to the nude and jumping off the bridge and into the Cherwell and a cheer would go up from the crowd. Last year, over one hundred people jumped off the bridge, many of whom suffered broken or sprained limbs. I don't know what this year was like, but really students -- enough is enough.

Then, everyone goes into town to watch the Morris Dancers and peruse the various stalls. We would slowly make our way to one of the many pubs (which opened early for May Morning) where we would stay until it was time to go to our lectures.

In the UK, the first Monday in May is always a Bank Holiday. This year, the Bank Holiday and May Day have coincided. I wouldn't be surprised if this has caused a large increase to the number of attendees to the May Day celebrations in Oxford, perhaps leading to an increase to the brainless leaping off a bridge into shallow water.