Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Stirling Lines on Burns Night

Today is, as many of you even beyond the borders of Scotland will be aware, the anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, born in 1759 in the village of Alloway in Ayrshire (the county, too, of my birth). Robert Burns came to Stirlingshire (where I now live) on two occasions in August and October 1787. He appreciated the importance of Stirling in Scotland's history and reflected this in a number of songs or poems (for example, Scot Wha Hae, By Allan Stream). I'm indebted to a fine new leaflet on Robert Burns' association with Stirling, published by Stirling's Smith Museum and Art Gallery for the above details and for providing me the opportunity to post something appropriate for Burns Night:

On one of his visits to Stirling in 1787, Burns stayed at the Golden Lion Hotel (which is still in business today) where he (mischievous lad that he was) engraved a short poem (known thereafter as The Stirling Lines) on a window pane in the hotel:

Written By Somebody On The Window Of an Inn at Stirling, on seeing the Royal Palace in ruin.

Here Stuarts once in glory reigned,
And laws for Scotland's weal ordained;
But now unroof'd their palace stands,
Their sceptre's sway'd by other hands;
Fallen indeed, and to the earth
Whence groveling reptiles take their birth.
The injured Stuart line is gone,
A race outlandish fills their throne;
An idiot race, to honour lost;
Who know them best despise them most.

The Smith Museum leaflet describes the poem thus:

"These ten lines summarise the ruinous condition of the palace and castle, where the ceiling with the Stirling Heads [carved wooden heads of royalty and citizenry, restored in 2011] collapsed in 1777. The town also lost its sense of purpose after the removal of the royal court to London in 1603 and was in a sad condition at the time of Burns".

However accurate a description of the condition of Stirling was provided by this little poem, it also proved immensely unpopular with some locals, perhaps also for its criticism of the ruling regime, and Burns was forced to break the window! The controversy even dogged his path two years later while seeking government employment, when he was "question'd like a child about my matters and schooled for my inscription on a Stirling window"!

An interesting little side story bringing Burns to life with all his mischief and perhaps a little youthful lack of foresight (or lack of care) about the consequences of his actions, and interesting for us right here in Stirling and especially today, on Burns Night.

Friday, 20 January 2012

My 2011 in bikes

"I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like"

Queen (who else?): "Bicycle Race"
I’m a cyclist and I’m proud to be described so. I don’t really race much. I do the (very) occasional short-course triathlon and I take part in the odd organised sportive ride. But mostly, I ride largely for fun, commuting and convenience. I love my bikes and, traffic and the state of Stirling’s roads notwithstanding, I love to ride. I have a few of my own bikes, none of them very flashy or new but each with their own strengths and uses.

In addition to my normal cycling experiences, I had a few encounters with interesting, unusual or odd bikes during the past year.

Le velo de facteur:

We were in Morzine in the French Alps in March and, on our last morning, we wandered around the village before departure and came upon the Post Office. Rather fantastically, there were four old yellow French post office bicycles leaning outside with little handwritten notes stuck on each, offering them free to take away: ‘a prendre’

Eh? What? No health and safety risk assessment? No cover-your-ar*e legal statement? But some of these bikes don’t even have functional brakes? Yeah. This is France. Refreshing, isn’t it? The coolest bike in Morzine? Darn right!
These bikes were obviously custom-made for les facteurs! They have a great parcel basket on the front, and a very solid-looking bespoke front-wheel based stand with little wheels of its own. The stand folds up under the frame. The one I tried was a bit stiff but nothing that a bit of oil wouldn’t sort.

The rear end of the bikes were pretty solid too, with a very robust rack and official French post office pannier bags:

Inevitably, the girls couldn’t keep their hands off the bikes:

Take one, get one free?

and it wasn’t long until they were test-riding them:

 I think if I’d been travelling with my own van, I might have brought one home. They were extremely solid and heavy machines (not one for the long climbs, I suspect) but one of these would definitely have been a unique bike for Stirling...

The recumbent tandem trike:

On our way home from helping out at our pals’ Apple Day in the South Lakes area of Cumbria in early October, we came on this recumbent tandem tricycle (not three words that you commonly see together) in a cafe car park.

From the decals, it appears to be a Greenspeed, not a manufacturer I've encountered previously. It was being ridden by a (fit-looking) couple who may have been in their 70’s and it had a Land’s End to John O’Groats sticker on it – that must have been an epic trip. It looks very stable and is probably very comfortable to ride but it is SO low down - I just can’t get over my feeling that British drivers are too uneducated in their dealings with cyclists for me to be attracted to riding a recumbent on the roads in this country.
First encounter with an electric cargo bike:

The low-carbon city project here in Stirling, Going Carbon Neutral Stirling (GCNS), has invested in a number of electric cargo bikes (trikes in reality) which it will lend out for people to use, attempting to replace some car trips in town with cycle trips. The large box at the front can carry a considerable amount, including a couple of children (a common sight in Copenhagen, where cargo bikes and trikes, electric or not, are very popular and widely used).

GCNS held a come-and-try event in the quiet residential Riverside area of Stirling on a rare warm summer evening. My wife O took one of the bikes for a spin and reported it as quite difficult to steer, especially around corners but this was her first attempt and I’ve seen the project staff riding one with relative ease on a gentle group ride around the town’s newer cycle paths. A friend, A, a massively experienced cycle racer, took one for a spin with his children in the cargo box at another open day at Stirling University and nearly turned over while cornering on a gentle downhill bend. He was probably going too fast but he did recover magnificently after cornering on two wheels. His children seemed to love it.

My wife’s old German racing bike:

 My wife bought a bike in Switzerland in the 1980’s which I’d never seen as it was stored at her mother’s. When we visited this summer, we dug it out of the shed to take a look at it turned out to be this splendid old Rudi Altig roadster. Rudi Altig was a German professional racing cyclist who, as well as lending his name to a range of bicycles, also won the green (points) jersey in the Tour de France, won the Spanish equivalent to Le Tour, the Vuelta a Espana, and became World road race champion in 1966, reflected by the addition of the World Champion colour rings on the bike’s down tube. You have to agree that they add a certain cach√©:

Note the unusual location for the early example of indexed gear shifters on the headset:

O rode this bike all over Berne, then brought it home to Blighty and it ended up in a shed. I just pumped up the tyres and oiled the chain and, despite the bike having sat in the shed for over 20 years, everything else on the bike (gears, brakes) worked so I took it out for a spin in the really hilly vicinity. I rode it for 30 minutes before, fearing that the old chain was going to snap under the strain of hill-climbing (they were REALLY steep!), I put it back in the shed again!

And as well as encounters with weird and wonderful cycles in 2011, it was also an unusually busy year as regards making the most of the bikes I already own.

Making do and mend – revamping my winter bike and my old hybrid:
I’ve had a lot of good experiences this year dealing with the guys at Stirling Cycle Repairs. Not the least of these was their advice and then hard work to help me reclaim two of my old bikes back into more active service. For the first seven or eight months of 2011, I was thinking about and researching possible option for buying a cyclocross (CX) bicycle. It’s not that I particularly fancied having a go at cyclocross racing (though if I had one, I might have had a go at a race or two as well), but it is more that CX bikes have become the new do-it-all road bikes in the past couple of years – tough, well-equipped, often for pannier racks and mudguards, they make for great general bikes for winter riding and there are many more on the market now.

I’ve been riding a bottom-of-the-range Giant OCR3 road bike as a winter bike for five or six winters and, having washed it conscientiously after most rides, it hasn’t rusted away or seized up as winter bikes often do (they are generally effectively bought as ‘sacrificial’ machines, to allow road racers, triathletes etc to preserve their expensive lightweight racing bikes for summer riding.

My Giant OCR3 has the most lovely light blue paint job and a very comfortable frame geometry that makes for quite relaxed road riding. But most of the original components had worn out. I’d already upgraded the brakes to Shimano 105 a couple of years ago. I was contemplating replacing this (and a mountain bike I never ride) with a cyclocross bike. But, given the current financial conditions, my dislike of disposing of perfectly sound equipment, and the fact that I do love that old OCR3 frame, I decided instead to investigate a refit. As I wasn't aiming for top-end components, the cost was less than I feared and so I went for it. Craig and Grant at Stirling Cycle Repairs did a great job of refitting it with basic Shimano SORA components (the gears, cranks and shifters), and finished it off with a very fetching and matching blue bar tape:

Look at the shiny-shiny! Didn’t the guys do a great job?

The wheels were still the same old wheels that originally came with the bike though and, after a week of riding, it was obvious that they were knackered (accentuated by how well everything else was working!) so I decided to replace them with a pair of Craig and Grant’s lovely hand-built training wheels – not so expensive, maybe not the lightest but light enough for winter training, pretty bombproof and likely to be usable well beyond the life of the Giant OCR3. And they are aesthetically pleasing too, with beautiful, curvaceous, silver Ambrosia hubs with Ambrosia rims. Look!

The final touch was a new pair of Continental Grand Prix 4-season road tyres with Continental inner tubes (funky yellow dust caps) to provide a durable partner for the new training wheels, and the package was complete for about a third the price of a decent new CX bike.

The final pleasing bike experience of the year was renovating, with my brother’s expert bike mechanic skills, my old Specialised Expedition hybrid, which has been stored in my brother’s garage roof for four years.

It was initially a disappointing insurance replacement for a much loved Marin Stinson hybrid that fell off a car bike rack. The replacement bike always felt heavy and clumsy in comparison to the Marin, was fitted with fairly cheap components (I constantly had to adjust the brakes, for instance) and I could never keep the wheels in true. They kept buckling and developing wobbles. I subsequently discovered from Craig at Stirling Cycle Repairs that the spokes had been incorrectly laced up when they were built and that there was no sensible way to correct that.

Luckily, my lovely brother donated a spare pair of used but good quality Cannondale 26x1.75 wheels (thanks lovely bro!). We fitted a new Shimano 8-speed cassette (that’s the rear gear cogs), a new 8-speed chain, and Stirling Cycle Repairs replaced the rubbish brakes with some good quality Shimano v-brakes.

My Old Specialised Expedition hybrid undergoing a facelift
I stuck on a set of Shimano SPD mountain bike pedals, Continental innertubes, a pair of Schwalbe Marathon touring tyres and some funky and surprisingly cheap SKS Beavertail mudguards (which needed some amendments with a hot needle and some zip ties) and I now have a tough utility bike with a rack(which I had fitted previously) and mudguards that’s ready for most of my non-training cycling needs – unglamorous maybe but helluva useful.

Oh, and it is in British Racing Green which is, as you know, very cool (like bow ties). Resurrecting and finally making useful this old Shimano Expedition bike was a fine end to a year of unusual and satisfying bike encounters and experiences.

Enjoy your own bikes in 2012!

Friday, 13 January 2012

What the Dickens...?

It may have escaped your notice (but probably only if you live in a cave) but 2012 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, perhaps the greatest creator of fictional characters in English literature (sorry Shakespeare). The BBC is gearing up to celebrate the Dickens bicentennial in style, with new dramas breaking out all over the place at present.

We, however, had the chance earlier tonight to enjoy a more intimate and special Dickens experience in this most Dickens-laden of years. We were privileged to see a great great grandson of Charles Dickens, the fine actor Gerald Dickens, re-create An Audience with Charles Dickens at the McRobert Theatre at Stirling University:

The New York Times described the show as: "A once in-a-lifetime brush with literary history" and so it was, at times breathtaking, moving, funny and highly entertaining. No spoilers from me but, as the information is widely available on line, I'll add that we were treated to a one-hour long version of Nicholas Nickleby which, if you know your Dickens, you'll know has a cast of 40+ characters, most of whom featured! My enjoyment was even enhanced by knowing that some strand of the great Charles Dickens' DNA was down there on the stage (there is even a family resemblance to my eye and not just down to the beards!)

I can't recommend this highly enough. It was fantastic. Enough said, go and see it if you can. Here's a list of upcoming shows.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Wild food from the Park – Look back in hunger... a review of 2011

And so we’ve finally reached the end of our year-long attempt to find wild food from our local park, the King’s Park in Stirling, every month of the year, and to produce some edible (or drinkable!) produce from what we collected. And, if you’ve been reading my intermittent (and usually extremely late) posts on this project through 2011, you’ll know that we managed it. Furthermore, some of what came out of the efforts was surprisingly tasty and we’ll be revisiting a number again next year. There were some good “do-ers”, available throughout the year or appearing as expected, when expected, such as the ever-available jelly-ear fungus, and the ever-reliable wild sorrel, elderflower and raspberries, the latter two of which we’ve been gathering for many years from the Park.

Some of our high points were:

  • using 30 plant species (including 12 wild plants) in a wild spring green souffl√©
  • discovering the nectar of the gods that is honeysuckle cordial (more please, more!)
  • wild garlic and walnut pesto and, for that matter, hazel and beechnut pesto too
  • the golden honey smell of lime blossom on one warm July morning
  • finding previously undiscovered wild plum, greengage and crab apple trees and bushes
  • making new ‘things’ like sloe and apple cheese, and Autumn’s end jelly (my own creation!)
  • coming home to O’s chardonnay jelly with wild raspberries, a real warm summer’s evening treat after a long day sitting about in a green room at BBC Scotland with the Heart of Scotland choir, waiting to be filmed with John Barrowman (two new experiences in one day!)
There were a couple of things we won’t be repeating – especially our meadowsweet cordial recipe – more medicinal than enjoyable – and we probably won’t be bothering trying to gather hazelnuts locally as these were more trouble than the efforts and returns merited, thanks to the Park’s highly efficient grey squirrels.

So, how did the year pan out in terms of the use of different wild foods in each month? The following table shows how the availability of different food sources changed as the year rolled on. Red boxes show where we collected and ate something, and blue boxes where we found, but didn’t collect (e.g. for reasons of time that month, or to avoid repeating experiences from previous months - variety is the spice of life, whether eating wild food or blogging about it!). Clicking on the table should open a larger version:

It’s an interesting pattern, showing that there’s real variation of opportunity. The weather also had a significant effect on this. In January, for example, everything was frozen solid during the most extreme winter for decades, including the jelly ear fungus that was our only successful find that month. By April, lots of fresh greens were available, but by July, many had disappeared or matured into poorly-edible fibrous toughness; edible blossoms had appeared by summer though, and Autumn was full of nuts, berries, hips and haws. The extremely wet Autumn greatly shortened the season for, and the crop of, blackberries – many went mildewy or rotted quickly.

The absence of edible fungal species in the Park is a big disappointment, with the honourable exception of jelly ear fungus on dead elder wood. There are many oak, beech and birch trees in the Park, all of which can and should host edible fungi that we would trust ourselves to identify. I think we may need to go a bit deeper into some of the denser areas of woodland next year to see if there’s more safely edible fungi available than we know of.

There were a couple of opportunities for which we ran out of time– the first, I’ve tried before and which is a little underwhelming, would have been acorn coffee. I still have some left from last year, and it is a bit like a malt drink with most of the flavour removed. The other failed opportunity was to try to make the drink, dandelion and burdock, made from the long roots of both plants in autumn after a summer of storing energy and flavour. Maybe next year!

One thought that struck me often throughout the year, and one which drove me back to read Ray Mears and Gordon Hillman's BBC book: ‘Wild Food’, was how difficult it would be to have a properly balanced diet from what we found to be available – protein was in relatively short supply for most of the year, although mycoprotein was available every month from the fungi. But I don’t know how much of a healthy diet’s protein is available from fungal sources. Of course, a true ‘hunter-gatherer’ diet would have included birds and their eggs, fish, shellfish and mammals. In the case of the Park, this latter option could have included roe deer, rabbits and grey squirrels – indeed, the King’s Park is a remnant of the much larger original deer park (forest) where the high and mighty residents from the Royal Household and Court in Stirling Castle would, in medieval times, have hunted for roe deer and, maybe, wild boar. But we weren’t hunting (it’s almost certainly banned in the Park, even for rabbits) and most of the birds are now protected by law, along with their eggs! Hazelnuts would have provided a good and readily storable protein source if they hadn’t been taken by the grey squirrels first.

Perhaps even more difficult to identify than protein sources, however, are obvious large-scale sources of complex carbohydrates, such as starch. Ray Mears and Gordon Hillman do, however, describe how many wild grass species (after all, the wild ancestors of our few domesticated grain crop species) were collected, processed and eaten by the early pre-agricultural peoples of Britain. A number of the grass species they describe can be found in the Park, for example the tufter hair-grass Deschampsia cespitosa . There are also plants with complex carbohydrate storage ‘organs’, such as the pignut, distributed widely in the Park and which we’ve previously collected there and eaten. We just ran out of time during the late-Spring season for pignut, and didn’t really think about the grasses until it was a bit too late. Also, I suspect the grasses might be a lot of work for a poor return. At least the berries, wild plums and greengages would provide fruit sugars in a form that could be dried and stored as dried fruit, and blossoms provide some light, fresh, sugar-rich food during their season. Also, our ancestors would have braved wild honey bee hives for the honey – but I’m not going there!

But despite all the missed opportunities, the nutritional gaps that total dependence on the Park would have created, and the time and effort involved (although most collecting was actually done on dog walking excursions, much to Ella’s impatient disgust), I hope it was obvious from the blog posts that we had a lot of fun with this. We made some really interesting discoveries, both in recipes and wild food sources in the Park, and we have picked up some new culinary experiences and cookery skills. We’ll definitely be carrying on with an expanded range of wild food that we collect and eat, though I won’t necessarily be blogging about it in quite as much detail as I have this year!

Wild food from the park – December

Aha! Finally, it’s December and we only had to find one more wild food source this month to complete our year-long project. This December’s weather is somewhat different to last year’s. On the 22nd of December, I checked with the Twitter blogger ‘Stirling Weather’ who posts tweets on, well, you work it out. They confirmed that the temperature that day in 2011 was a full 20 degrees Celsius warmer than the same date in 2010. Thos extreme winter temperatures in December 2010 were maintained into January 2011, making our wild food searches somewhat problematic. As I reported though, we did manage to find jelly ear fungus that saved the project foundering before it had barely begun. And so, as we reached December, jelly ear fungi once again proved to be a reliable source of winter wild food. We cooked them with some ordinary white field (supermarket) mushrooms and included them in a pasta dish:

A final use for jelly-ear fungus– with commercial white mushrooms in a pasta dish

As we only had a couple of days of frost in December (it was actually remarkably mild), wild sorrel remained available, as did the wall plant ivy-leaved toadflax which we’ve eaten before and which is edible but uninteresting. We included leaves from both plants in a vegetable soup in late December, to bring our year-long wild food project to a successful if reasonably unspectacular finish:

Wild sorrel and ivy-leaved toadflax in vegetable soup

I’ll shortly post a review and discussion of the whole year’s ‘Wild Food from the Park’ experiences.

Wild food from the park – November

So, with November, we were nearly there for a full year of wild food from the Park. If you’d asked me in January if November was likely to yield much wild food, I suspect that I would not have been hopeful of finding much beyond some meagre greenery and a few jelly ear fungi. But, as you’ll see, a long extended tail of a mild Autumn left us with a relative cornucopia of delights in November... which does make for a more interesting blog!

In a previous attempt to use the wild food in our park, we tried to make some hawthorn jelly sweets using a recipe in Roger Phillips’ ‘Wild Food’ book. On that occasion, the haws (collected late in the season) were rather sparse and quite dry and the resultant sweets were a bit of a disappointment. This year, we were able to pick them a bit earlier, so the moisture content was higher. But there was, again, quite a poor hawthorn harvest in King’s Park’s. So, we supplemented these with hawthorn berries, or haws, from East Lothian, where the hawthorn bushes were so red this year with big, plump haws that they looked more like cherry trees. On a visit to see family, I collected a couple of kilogrammes of hawthorn berries from the Longniddry-to-Haddington railway walk, which is lined for much of its length with hawthorns and which, in October this year, was distinguished by dense, bright red drifts of haws. This photo is a bit out of focus but it shows the lovely, fat, red hawthorn berries:

 The recipe calls for the boiling of the haws with water, straining the resultant mash, then boiling the resultant liquid with sugar until it thickens. It is then poured into moulds or onto a flat tray to set – a bit like a fruit leather, I guess. The resultant sweets are then rolled/coated in icing sugar to stop them sticking and the final result is not unlike Turkish Delight! And did I mention, surprisingly tasty?

We did a bit of both – here are some hawthorn jellies produced in silicon moulds:

and here’s the process of forming it into a sheet and cutting it up (free tip: kitchen scissors proved more effective than a knife):

Just as with the start of this project in January and February, when we were able to harvest jelly ear (or Jew’s ear) fungus, even in the coldest weather (when everything else in the Park was frozen solid between -10° and -20° C for weeks), as the rest of the wild food harvest began to dwindle in November as winter approached, so we were able to collect many large, freshly-emerged jelly ear fungi from dead elder trees or broken-off branches. We used them with some of the wild chanterelles we collected earlier (not from the Park) in a potato and wild mushroom ‘au gratin’ dish from Roger Phillips’ ‘Wild Food’ book. Finely-sliced potatoes are layered with wild mushrooms and garlic in a casserole dish, cream poured over the top, parmesan grated on top and the lot is baked in a hot oven:

The jelly ear fungi, although quite tasty, have a tendency to rubbery chewiness when cooked (we normally cut them up very small), but prepared this way, they were quite tender.

One of my favourite discoveries this year has been a large area of wild garlic in a relatively inaccessible corner of the Park, and the riotously-tasty wild garlic pesto we made from some of it in April (here). I’ll definitely be making more (much more) in 2012, now that I know we have such a large local supply of wild garlic. That experience made me keen to explore other possible pesto ingredients from the Park. One of the key ingredients of ‘true’ pesto is pine nuts. Obviously, that’s a difficult wild food ingredient to source locally but I couldn’t help thinking that the few beech nuts (or ‘mast’) that we started to find in the Park from late September were very like pine nuts in look, texture and even to some extent in taste. Now, as I wrote about in the September wild food post, most of the beech mast cases we looked at were empty or contained hollow beechnut cases but a few had little beech nuts and we began to collect them, along with the few hazelnuts we could find that hadn’t been snaffled by the darned grey squirrels. Comments on Twitter by TV gardening broadcaster Toby Buckland and in the Guardian newspaper’s nature diary suggested that 2011 was, at least in the south of Britain, looking like a classic ‘beech mast year’, with a prodigious crop of beech nuts. I had high hopes, therefore, of a great opportunity to make lots of beech nut pesto but, by late November, our local crop proved to be thin pickings, it was obvious that we weren’t going to find any more and we had to make do with a small dish of local beech and hazel nuts supplemented by some shop-bought hazelnuts (boo – the best-laid plans and all that):

Our meagre catch of local hazel and beech nuts

But, with the addition of the more usual oil, parmesan, basil, etc ingredients, we made a more-than-passable pesto:

Beech and hazel nut pesto certainly looks the part...

And it was pretty tasty on cracked-back-pepper oatcakes. Next stop, some pasta.

We managed to gather a few remaining sloes from the Park but, on my East Lothian visit, I also found a blackthorn bush that yielded nearly two pounds of sloes (and that was only a small part of the crop). Then, at the eleventh hour as far as this particular harvesting opportunity is concerned, I discovered a little crab apple tree out in the middle of the Park’s golf course. All but three of its crab apples had fallen and been removed (actually only the day before!) when the greenkeepers sucked up all the leaves along the edge of the fairway with their leaf and (crab apple) sucking machine. But I picked those remaining three (and watch out next year!), and with some of the few apples our garden’s apple trees managed to produce, we used the sloes to make a sloe and apple cheese using another recipe from Roger Phillips’ ‘Wild Food’ book:

Amazing sticky red sloe and apple cheese goo!

...transformed into preserved ‘product’ and awaiting consumption on a cheese board!

Happy New Year!

Thank you continuing to read my blog or, if you've only just arrived, then welcome! Whatever your visiting status, today seems as good a day as, or even a better one than any other, to wish you and your loved ones a Happy New Year. In comparison to last New Year, this one is remarkably mild, concluding one of the mildest and wettest years in the UK since records began (which for very reliable observations was the year 1910, I think).

The past Autumn was extremely mild. Here in Stirling, we've only had two or three mornings with frost and December temperatures reached double figures Celsius on a few occasions. There have been numerous media and social media comments about ongoing flowering from this year or the early emergence of next Spring's flowers. We have just spent Christmas with family in West Wales where we saw cow parsley in the hedgerows either still flowering or flowering early. Red campion was also extensively still in flower, as this post's only photo shows.

And it isn't just the flowers - the birds and bees are doing what they ought not to be too. I saw a Twitter comment this morning about queen bumblebees in southern Britain being active today (unfortunate, as they won't survive any sudden temperature drop such as is forecast for the next couple of days). When I was walking the dog in the park this morning, the woods were alive with wood pigeons giving their courting calls and I saw collared doves displaying in flight yesterday.

We're all doomed, I tell you, doomed!