nanila: YAY (me: abby)
( Jun. 9th, 2017 09:02 am)
Dear 18-25 year old voters,
It's an omnishambles of a result and it's going to take months to sort out. But OMG well done all of you for turning up - an estimated 72% of you - and confounding the initial expectations for this general election. Keep it up. You swung it. I'm so pleased for you.

Dear people in power,
See that letter up above? Start paying attention, start thinking long-term and start putting in place policies that aren't going to screw over their futures.
Kiss kiss bye bye,
Poll #18443 UK GE2017 Future Levels of Discourse
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 51

As we have seen, the 2017 UK General Election campaign has reached the Badger Cull level of discourse. What's next?

View Answers

Fox Hunting
8 (16.3%)

Liam Fox Hunting
19 (38.8%)

22 (44.9%)

Current UK Prime Minister Theresa May is Margaret Thatcher's Final Horcrux

View Answers

45 (100.0%)

Nanila got the response types mixed up in the previous two questions

View Answers

8 (16.3%)

10 (20.4%)

23 (46.9%)

36 (73.5%)

I saw this in a derelict shop window on the high street of my local village. It reads: "SAVE BRITAIN: CULL TORIES" and features an image of a badger with a Union Jack painted on its face.

Thus I feel compelled to announce that the UK GE2017 campaigning has attained the Badger level of discourse.
Birmingham Open Media art exhibit

This wasn’t the post I was intending to make today, but having discovered the above on my phone whilst searching for something else from about a month ago, I felt I must share this with my Circle immediately. It is a series of three delightful photographs on display in the toilets (no really) of BOM, the Birmingham Open Media gallery. BOM is a little odd corner space a few tens of metres from one of the exits of New Street Station, over the road from an Adult Entertainment Shop (™?). It features tiny exhibitions celebrating “the intersection of art, technology and science”.

The caption for the photographs reads as follows.

Gemma Marmalade
The Seed Series, 2015

The Seed Series is a series of photographic prints by artist Gemma Marmalade, which explores the possibility that those of homosexual persuasion may be more likely to have a visceral impact on the cultivation of plants.

During studies of communal lesbian gardeners in the 1970s, German botanist Dr Gerda Haeckel observed accelerated growth, crop abundance and increased vegetational health. The Seed Series depicts some of Haeckel’s original subjects and their finest vegetable specimens.

Pardon the awkward angle of the photograph - it was not easy to take whilst holding a toddler who was frustrated at the thought that I was about to steal his dirty nappy and replace it with a clean one.
I should be sleeping. Instead, I'm watching the results of the European elections come in, with a mounting sense of horror.

The massive gains by far-right parties in mainland Europe.

UKIP winning its first-ever seat in Scotland.

UKIP topping the polls in England.

And I'm wondering, did I become British just to watch the UK I admired and wanted so much to be part of, crumble in front of my eyes? I don't want this to be so. I very much don't want this to be so.

I voted. What else can I do to stop this seemingly inevitable march towards xenophobia, racism and isolationism?

Welcome to a state, where the politics of hate
Shout loud in the crowd, watch them beat us all down
There's a rising tide on the rivers of blood
But if the answer isn't violence, neither is your silence

If you have never read the lyrics to this song, you really should. )

By the way, I want it on the record that if next year's general election results demonstrate that I'm overreacting here, I will be overjoyed. Because I care far more about compassion and kindness winning the day than I do about being personally in the right.

[Image: A newly minted Brit with an experienced crew.]

Today, I became a British citizen.

I spent most of yesterday feeling faintly embarrassed at the prospect. Eventually I worked out that this was because of the ceremony, which struck me as a rather un-British and ostentatious as a concept. Unless, as I suspected it didn’t, the ceremony consisted of going to the pub, sitting around with your mates and having someone walk up with a gin & tonic, clap you on the shoulder, say, “Congratulations, old bean,” in a delightfully plummy accent* and saunter off.

I was right about the ceremony not being that, but wrong about it being ostentatious. I opted to participate in a group ceremony. Eighteen of us queued nervously downstairs in the county hall, then shuffled upstairs and queued again outside the registry room. Finally we were ushered to an orderly semi-circle of chairs to wait quietly in what was effectively a seated queue while Elgar was piped softly to us through the room’s PA system. Laminated placards with the Oath or Affirmation of Allegiance (including polite notice to return said cards at the end of the ceremony) were placed neatly on the chairs. We picked them up and studied them.

A local councillor read a brief history of Worcestershire to us. Most of the content failed to reach my mind, I’m afraid, as it was nervously reciting the Affirmation so I could say it clearly when the time came. The woman speaking had a lovely soothing voice, so I caught a few phrases here and there - Worcestershire sauce, A. E. Housman, the Malvern Hills.

Then it was time for us to speak. Half of the semi-circle stood to read the Oath of Allegiance. This included the other North American (an older white-haired gentleman), the black couple (dressed to the nines - waistcoats were involved), the East Asian family and their three children and the guy in the high-vis vest (more on him later). We applauded them after they had carefully repeated all the words. Then the other half of the semi-circle, including the Middle Eastern, Asian, Chinese persons and me, stood to recite the Affirmation of Allegiance (the God-free version). I felt like my voice sounded out above the others as I was trying to project my voice very clearly, which was later confirmed by my refreshingly honest mother-out-law.

We all stood together to speak the Pledge, in which we promised to uphold British rights and freedoms and to respect British law.

The officiators and other attendees** smilingly applauded us as we grinned at one another, relieved.

We were called up individually to collect our certificates. They used our full names, which, impressively, were pronounced correctly. (Mine wasn’t the longest and most torturous, as I was sure it would be.) A professional photographer took photos of us in front of the gracefully draped Union flag. When he arrived at the chap wearing the high-vis jacket, there was a ripple of laughter as the photographer told him, “Mate, you’re going to have to get rid of that or the photo’s just going to be a big yellow blur.” He removed it, self-consciously straightening the collared shirt that was clearly the one concession to the ceremony he’d made for the two hours he was being allowed off the job to attend, untucking and pulling it down over his paint-spattered jeans so the photo would turn out well.

We were welcomed once more as newly minted British citizens. We stood as an instrumental version of “God Save the Queen” was played to us. Since I have still known this tune as “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” for far longer, my brain conjured up an exciting and entirely inappropriate mishmash of lyrics that I was immensely relieved not to be singing aloud.

Afterward, we were allowed to take our own photos in front of the flags and photos of the Queen (which we politely queued up to do). Tea and biscuits were also involved.

You might think that after nearly nine years in this country, in which I’ve made a home and had a baby, going through a citizenship ceremony might not make me feel all that different. But it has. It’s a rebirth. This is Day One.

+1 )

* Accent could be subject to regional requirements, which would be entertaining. In Norfolk, they could for instance say, "Roight, boyo!" Suggestions for other county-specific variants welcome.
**I brought by far the largest number of guests - six, including the out-laws, bloke, Humuhumu and [ profile] imyril and her boy.
I still can’t quite believe we were able to go to St Kilda. It was the highlight of the trip. I suspect it will be a highlight of our lives.

For those who don’t know, and I certainly didn’t until the bloke & I stumbled across it in two books in quick succession (The New Naturalist Scotland book and Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines), the St Kilda archipelago is the remotest part of the British Isles, 41 miles (66 kilometres) west of the Outer Hebrides. It is no longer permanently inhabited. The last 30 native occupants were evacuated in 1930. Today, the MOD, the National Trust for Scotland and Scottish Heritage assume joint responsibility for maintaining the islands, mostly for conservation efforts.

St Kilda is a World Heritage Site and is possibly Europe’s most essential breeding location for North Atlantic seabirds. (Seabirds formed the major part of the native St Kildans’ diet.) It also plays host to a unique species of mouse and wren (which we saw, but I couldn’t photograph well), and the Soay sheep, which are a primitive breed dating back to the Bronze Age.

To reach St Kilda, you have to either: work for Qinetiq or the MOD, pay to volunteer for a stint on Hirta (the main island) or pay someone to take you there by private hire boat. We selected the last option, as it’s the only way to commit to a mere day trip.

Day 6
We rose at 6:30 AM (although I was awake at 5:30, scared we’d miss our phone alarms and thus the boat), ate a quick breakfast and packed up our tent. We’d been told to arrive at the speedboat that took us to St Kilda no later than 7:45 AM in Leverburgh and though we were a few minutes early, we were the last ones there, so we were ushered quickly on. I was allowed to go on the condition that I remain seated in the cabin for the entire journey, which I did. Of the 12 passengers, three were seasick. I was not one of them. Of the 12 passengers, three were under the age of fifty. The bloke and I comprised two of the three.
Speedboat to St Kilda. )

Even by speedboat, it takes three hours to get to St Kilda from Leverburgh on the southern end of Harris Island in the Outer Hebrides. By the time we arrived, we were itching to get walking through the glorious sunshine.

As soon as they would let us after the dinghy ride to the tiny pier, we started to climb up the slope of Hirta, the main island, from the MOD base into realms of the cleitean. These low stone turf-roofed structures were used mainly for food storage and they were all over the St Kildan islands. Presumably cleit-building was a major source of entertainment as well as a necessity, as they appear to be in some rather impractical though aesthetically pleasing places. The isle of Dun can be seen across the harbour in the photo.

Our hike up the slope to the cliff edge. )

Nesting fulmars and their chick in the cliff. You can probably tell that I’m lying down again to take this photo.

We walked up the edge of the cliff a little way before my pregnant body protested at being hauled any further in a vertical direction, and we stumbled across these rocks. It looks to me as if they’ve been deliberately arranged to reflect the shapes of Boreray and the sea stacs in the distance.

We hiked back down the grassy slope. My only regret on this trip was that I couldn’t manage to walk all the way around Hirta, which we had time to do (3.5 hours). Instead, we visited the little museum and then went to sit out at the edge of the village to watch the flotillas of seabirds - and the seal! - in the harbour.

Harbour views. )

It occurred to me when we went to the post office to get postcards that it would be good to have at least one photo proving that both of us were there.

We returned to the boat at 3:30 PM. It’s the one furthest right in the harbour.
Last view of Hirta harbour. )

Everyone was exhilarated as we clambered from the dinghy back into the speedboat. The crew met us with cups of tea and generous slices of rum and raisin cake, which we devoured sitting on the deck. I was happy when we set off to circle the other islands and they didn’t ask me to return to the cabin - presumably because I’m still pretty mobile and I didn’t get seasick. This is Boreray and the stacs as we headed toward them.
Next destination. )

I was not prepared for the effect the leisurely boat trip around the stacs was to have on all of us. It was truly like being dropped into a wildlife documentary. Imagine seeing Stac Lee in its 175 metres of glory, which hosts an estimated 6000 breeding pairs of gannets, and then riding straight up to it. It’s overwhelming. The silence - apart from the calling of the birds - was largely unbroken by conversation.

At first we thought all that white was bird droppings. Well, some of it is, but the rest of it is birds. Birds, birds and more birds.
Did I mention the birds? )

All those black specks are birds. The noise was phenomenal. So was the smell.

Puffins and guillemots and gannets, oh my! )

As the sun finally began to dip toward the horizon, we regretfully turned our backs on the stacs and Boreray. No one was seasick on the three-hour journey back to Leverburgh. We were all too worn out from excitement and sun. Most of us fell asleep.

We drove from Leverburgh to Luskentyre to check in at our B&B. Our kind hosts warned us that we should go immediately to Tarbert to find something to eat as there was only one restaurant on the island open past 8 PM, in the hotel. We ate in a state of quiet exhilaration, exclaiming periodically over the day’s observations, before driving back through a glorious sunset.
Sunset over Luskentyre

I feel privileged to have spent an afternoon simply being at St Kilda. I feel privileged to have been able to afford to make the journey. I feel privileged to have been allowed to travel there despite being almost six months pregnant. I feel privileged to have had calm seas and clear skies on exactly the day we had planned to go there. Many would-be St Kilda visitors spend their entire holidays hanging about on the Outer Hebrides, hoping to go, and because of the weather or rough seas or both, are unable to make the journey. We were so, so lucky. I will not soon forget the experience.
In part two of three, we make our way from the Isle of Skye to Harris and Lewis Islands and spend a day poking our noses into large stone-based ruins. (We spend the following day lolling in our tent and resting up for part 3, which is the amazing trip to St Kilda.)

Day 4
We got up at 7 AM and didn’t pitch our tent until 9:30 PM, so this was a fairly epic day.

We said goodbye to our gracious hosts at The Ferry Inn in Uig on Skye and headed to the ferry terminal after a hearty breakfast. We rode in the observation deck on the 1.75 hour journey to Tarbert on Harris Island, where we were assured it wouldn't be raining.

+2 )

A light drizzle hit us as we drove off the ferry.

We checked at the tourist office for a good campsite, then at Kilda Cruises to make sure we could still travel there on Thursday. They said yes, as long as I was willing to stay seated during the journey across the open Atlantic. I agreed to the condition.

The rain cleared as we drove north to Lewis (part of the same island as Harris but long separated by an obscure intraclan feud). We saw many stone constructions of unfathomable age: stone circles, kilns, blackhouses & a broch, which was a sort of Iron Age way of saying, 'Go Away, for Our Fort is Bigger Than Yours'. Impressive, yet also functional. Everyone including livestock could shelter from a fierce storm in it.

+Lots )

+Lots )

We drove back down to Stornoway on Lewis through uninhabited rocky land. We got ourselves some excellent fish & chips and observed the flags on the pier with amusement. Grouped together: the Scottish, Welsh and Scandanavian flags. On a separate flagpole, and considerably smaller: the Union Jack. (At least it wasn’t on fire.)

Refueled, we headed back to the west coast of Harris to Horgabost, whose white sand beaches we hope to enjoy tomorrow. We tried to put our tent up on the rise you see me standing on here, but the wind was so strong that when we popped up our tent, it turned into a kite - probably to the great amusement of the other campers. We retreated to the little protected dells behind the machair (grass-covered sand dunes) to enjoy the sunset.

Back on Harris Island, the campsite near the village of Horgabost.

+2 )
This is part one of three of the Epic Driving Holiday from Cambridge to the Outer Hebrides. We decided to drive and alternate between hotels/B&Bs and car camping, given my current knocked-up condition. The bloke bought me a special inflatable mat, dubbed “The Princess Mat” for our camping nights. It was luxurious indeed, although he didn’t get one for himself and instead insisted on sleeping on foam pads, aka “The Pauper Mat”. There is probably some interesting logic involved in this, whereby it isn’t proper camping unless you’re cold and uncomfortable. I’m perfectly fine with this logic, as long as no one tries to apply it to me.

Day 1
We made it to Scotland! 430 miles from Cambridge to Callander, a sleepy little town with some lovely hikes & one outstanding pub, just outside Stirling.

We stopped at the National Trust property Sizergh Castle for lunch in Lancashire. Very pretty rock gardens and deer park...and some rather terrifying scarecrows. The castle was shut as it's still occupied but we didn't mind as it was just a quick stop to eat, have a walk and break up the journey.

+4 )

We got to Callander at 4:30, checked in to our hotel - which was probably a grand affair in the 1960s but whose glory has considerably faded since - had a cup of tea and drove to Bracklinn Falls for a 2.5 mile walk. It was to be the only time on the entire trip that we needed our wet weather gear. We felt we’d earned our supper by then, so we consulted the Lonely Planet guide and chose the Lade Inn for a seafood dinner. I had prawns. Francis had mussels. All local food and very good indeed.

We were early to bed so we could have the energy to tackle Ben Nevis. (Not really, given that I have to rely on my walking poles to ascend even a gentle slope.) But it would be nice to walk at least a short length of the West Highland Way, which stretches 96 miles from Milngrave to Fort William.

Day 2
We drove to in Kinlochleven today, our stopping point on the way to Skye. Did a spot of walking in the Mamores in the afternoon, so I’m satisfied to have walked a couple of miles of the West Highland Way. The poor bloke got bitten badly by the midges which is doubly unfair because I'm pregnant, therefore supposedly tastier and also unable to wear DEET. But the views were lovely.

House on the loch, taken from the car, prompting fantasies of retiring to the Scottish countryside.

+2 )

Camping tonight. It was dry, which was a bonus. I had a nap on The Princess Mat earlier after our walk, and it met with approval.

We also splashed out on a really nice dinner at a special seafood place on the loch. They grow their own shellfish in tanks - making them very clean - and fish from the sea (accessible from the loch). We shared the cold seafood platter. The bloke had to eat all the oysters & cockles because they were raw. He assures me it was a terrible sacrifice. Hm. But at least I could have the razor clams, mussels, clams, langostines, lobster & crab, so I didn't feel too hard done by. Passenger seemed to approve of it all too. Supposedly a fetus can start to taste what you're eating around this time so I have to make sure she has a healthy & eclectic palate!

The Place of Feasting.

We're off to Skye in the morning so next update comes from there.

Day 3
Today we drove to Skye across Kyle of Lochalsh bridge. On the way, we stopped at a popular Point of View over Loch Garry (which looks like a map of Scotland) and were accosted by a very friendly bagpiper and his daughter. He insisted on playing “Yankee Doodle” on his bagpipe in my honour. The bloke insisted on taking pictures. Ack.

+2 )

Oh my.

We stopped off in Fort William for coffee & cake and a look around the delightful little museum before heading north. There seems to have been a long history of feuding in the area. Intraclan feuding, inter-clan feuding and, when opportunities presented themselves, feuding with the English. Apparently the Highlanders can really get their teeth into a good grudge.

We passed by stunning views over lochs and the restored Eilean Doran castle which is probably the most photographed castle in Scotland. We didn't go in because our guidebook gave us the impression that it's a tourist trap. But we felt quite lucky that we got to see it on a sunny afternoon.

Eilean Donan castle

+1 )

We got to Uig and booked into our hotel for a quick refueling and rest before going for a long walk on the rocky beach. Lots of sea birds - noisy little oystercatchers, herons and small gulls. Saw the ferry come in too. We'll be on it (going to Tarbert on Harris Island) tomorrow morning. V exciting.

Uig pier, Isle of Skye.

Coming in Part Two: Harris Island and Lewis Island, featuring stone-based ruins and white sand beaches.
Waterfront Property, Dirt Cheap

To celebrate his car purchase and also to get some camping in before the brief English summer vanishes into the drizzle of autumn, the bloke and I went on a camping trip to the flat broad marshlands of north Norfolk this weekend. He kindly loaned me his little point-and-shoot Canon so I could satisfy my shutterbug instincts without burning through a load of medium format film. We ate fresh fish, drank the local swill (the charmingly named and distinctly indigestible Old Les), hiked for miles along the coast and, of course, got rained on. Brilliant!

Burnham Deepdale is between Brancaster Staithe and Burnham Norton, in case you were in need of further geographical clarification.

Sunset over the north Norfolk coast )