Outdoorsy

I get a lot of pleasure from lots of things that I never used to these days – but one that continues to surprise and delight me is my garden.

Long term readers may remember that back at the start of my journey in 2016 (when I still wasn’t coping with every aspect of life very well) this was viewed by me as something of a burden rather than a boon.

Right up until early 2017 I considered the maintenance of it to be a disagreeable chore rather than a chance to get out and have some exercise.

Consequently I’d let it slide into a shameful mess and I didn’t know where to begin. The problem just seemed too huge to tackle.

Although generally things were becoming easier for me as I lost weight the mental barriers were still bigger than I realised at the time and every time I pulled back the curtain of my back window (which usually remained closed – because out of sight is out of mind) I was convinced it was still beyond me.

I was doing a lot of walking back then though – and as well as becoming increasingly fitter I was beginning to fit into mainstream clothes more often than not. I was still a different man compared to the one I am today – and at 20st 10lbs still had quite a distance to go before I reached my target weight.

When I look back at my mindset then and compare it to the one I have now I can see that without doubt I was still being held back by an increasingly outdated perception of my capabilities. There were a lot of things that I was afraid of trying or tackling head on and certain tasks were so knotted up with fears and memories of how they used to affect me that I avoided them altogether.

This was until my friend eventually grabbed this particular bull by the horns and offered to help start me off with a couple of days clearing it (link).

I (maybe a little pensively) started with his support – fully expecting the (previously ever present) crippling back and joint pain to be immediate – and that I’d be drenched in sweat throughout. It wasn’t easy – but it also wasn’t the sweaty agony I expected – and as the days wore on the process slowly yielded pleasing results.

For one thing I could see my path and the fence again.

After many weeks of chopping branches up into little pieces, trundling back and forth with my wheelbarrow, filling refuse sacks and seemingly endless trips to my local tip I finally cleared it though.

My persistence had won the day but the fact remained though that my satisfaction from doing this wasn’t because I loved the process of gardening. I’d done it purely because I wanted to open my curtains and it had been bugging me for a very long time that I’d let everything slide so badly.

My approach going forward was therefore proactive and ongoing preventive maintenance. ‘Do a little a lot’ was mantra I adopted – and in doing so the garden soon became very much like washing or ironing because although I liked to see it look tidy – in truth it was just another chore around the house and very little more.

However this mindset wasn’t the whole story.

Whilst cutting the bushes back I’d been majorly upset that I’d accidentally disturbed a blackbird nest – and despite trying my best to cover it back up (link) ultimately the elements drove the little family out and their eggs were eaten (link).

I spent a lot of time watching this struggling little family and couldn’t help but fall in love with blackbirds – which (mostly because of their inquisitive behaviour) quickly became my favourite reason for having a garden.

They monitored my activities while I was working and bit by bit became bolder – following the cycles of my digging and mowing to get the choicest morsels for their dinner.

The more bugs and worms I unearthed the happier they were.

Then I started realising that if I made an effort to feed the birds in my garden and left places for them to nest (I stopped cutting back my bushes so brutally and left a thicker canopy) birds would come back and I’d always be able to listen to their pleasing twittering when I was in the kitchen.

Soon after I also started putting bird boxes and feeders in the garden which I regularly filled up with seed balls.

They’ve become quite popular…

The record that I’ve seen this week is five sparrows clinging to it – all chiselling away at the tasty treats – whilst blackbirds and pigeons hoover up the crumbs below.

Over time, and just like me, the garden has taken on a new lease of life.

It’s not just the birds though because I’ve realised that there’s another dynamic at play lately. I enjoy it a lot more with company.

Now the weather has improved when I cook for my partner we tend to sit outdoors and enjoy the birdsong and leafy ambiance together.

Whilst I was weeding my patio and path the other day I realised that I’m no longer making it look nice because I have to. My incentive to maintain it has now shifted and I’ve realised that I’m doing it not as a chore but because I want to share the space with someone else.

It gives me pleasure to know that they like it too.

A garden is a fascinating little eco system that supports any number of little creatures and tending to it (as well as continually being out and about in the wider world) keeps me feeling connected to it in a way that I never was in the past.

On Thursday (in between my various gardening exploits) I visited Coombe Abbey for the first time in a couple of months – and it didn’t fail to disappoint.

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Everything is in bloom – and this applies doubly to the wildfowl.

They’re doing very well indeed this season – and the swanlings (remember those?!) are clearly thriving because there’s plentiful food for them to eat.

There were seven in this particular brood. All seemed to be in rude health and were nibbling away at the wonderful green algae that was absolutely covering the pond they floating around in.

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Full tummies seem to mean more chilled birds – and neither the swanlings or the ducks at Coombe seemed to mind having their picture taken.

When you get closer to them the expectation is instead that you are very likely to have food – and as such a natural fear of human beings quickly evaporates and is replaced in almost all the birds by a willingness to eat seeds directly from your hand.

Coombe is hope to something else of interest though – and it wasn’t there when I last visited.

There’s now a ‘go ape’ facility there and the whole tree line in one area has been repurposed with all manner of climbing ropes, ladders and zip lines.

The prices are a little steep in my view (it’s going to be a wallet battering hour or two for a family of four) but I suppose if you want properly trained staff and good facilities then you have to pay for the privilege.

Whilst I was looking at the notice and saying I’d like to give it a go my friend pointed something out.

The weight I’d lost to get to target (if it was real live person) would have been too heavy to use the facilities! Furthermore if I’d been the same weight as I was when I started clearing my garden they wouldn’t even allow me to buy a ticket!

I plan to give it a go at some point though regardless of the cost because it looks like good fun. Plus over time I’ve realised that somewhere along the line I became ‘outdoorsy‘.

Anyway.

I must get on. I have a lot to do this weekend.

Once again I’m working towards making my partner’s move to Warwick a reality and there’s a whole load of things that need to get done before that can happen.

At least I know though that when she arrives the garden will look ticketty boo!

Davey

P.S.

These photos popped through the letterbox earlier, courtesy of the kind PR people at Slimming World. Friends think I know nothing about football – and that my lack of willingness to watch even world cup matches when they’re on means that I don’t have the first clue regarding the subject.

How wrong they are!!!

I for one will never forget meeting Gary Lineker – although admittedly I thought his ears would be bigger. It just goes to show – your heroes are never what you expect!

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Brandon Marsh

I’ve been in gentle exploration mode today – with the emphasis on stopping to look at things rather than clambering over stuff and moving quickly.

Although I’d originally planned a return trip to Ilmington Downs today (original visit here) for some hill based cardio exercise I’m still being troubled by some stubborn blisters on my left foot from over two weeks ago – and despite having a day here or there where I do a bit less to promote healing (and using some fancy plasters) they don’t seem to be shifting easily. Annoyingly others appear to be joining the party – which isn’t really helped by me buying some 2nd hand walking boots from eBay.

These are not the cause of my current blisters – but I need to wear them and get used to them at a time when my feet don’t want to be in boots at all.

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Tread wise they seem hardly used – and the soles are very comfy – however the left foot appears to have part of the inner membrane above the toes slightly twisted, making the boot feel a little cramped compared to the right one. They were 1/3 of the cost of the same pair new though, so I guess beggars can’t be choosers!

On the plus side the leather is supple enough for them to not require much ‘breaking in’ and so far they seem to be quite servicable. They need to be. I have big plans for them in the near future. So – in order to minimise any further poking of the ‘blister bear’ (blister bear doesn’t like being poked) today my companion and I went for a leisurely stroll at yet another place I’ve not been to before.

Brandon Marsh Nature Reserve and the nearby Brandon Woods.

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I’m beginning to wonder just how many locations there are like this that I’ve never been to. I’ve been exploring my local area for a while now and Warwickshire appears to continually throw up new (to me at least) and cool little spaces full of life and interest.

The nature reserve is one of those places however where teeny tiny bits of wildlife are completely missable if you don’t take the time to stop and look.

Take this little guy for instance. He’s about 1cm across and is teeny tiny.

I only just avoided stepping on him as he hopped across the path in front of me.

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Shortly after meeting him we stopped at one of the hides along the way – and looked for a while at all of the serene water birds just going about their business. There’s a pretty varied bunch here – and it’s really calming just watching swans and other birds float past your seat.

After sitting just tantalisingly out of reach for a while (I need a longer zoom lens!!!) from the really interesting species we moved on and it was here that I started to pay close attention to all of the insect life – which is legion around here.

 

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Although the flowers are currently well past their prime it’s not stopping the smaller residents enjoying the bounties they have to offer. A really varied selection of bees (the reserve also sells its own honey and candles) were all buzzing around busily collecting pollen and carrying it from place to place, making sure the delicate order of things is maintained.

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Maybe because it was pretty humid and moist today it was easy to get a sense that this place wasn’t just about conservation – but also about procreation. As with the little swanling above there was evidence everywhere that this was a place where gettin’ jiggy with it was the way forward.

It’s a good thing these guys aren’t shy.

I got a ringside seat.

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They weren’t the only ones taking time to enjoy the steamy conditions – there were many others nearby – and although the sun wasn’t shining brightly it seemed to bother none of them. They were all lost in their day jobs – which appeared to either be making whoopee, eating as much as they could before the seasons changed – or before their short life spans ended.

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After we’d spent a little while walking around the reserve we were back at the gift shop and decided that a stroll around the nearby Brandon Woods would be a nice way to round off the day.

I have to say I couldn’t have agreed more. The words ‘moist’ and ‘woodland’ always seem to go well together – particularly if paths are well maintained – and in this case they were. Lots of eager people were busy re-barking the trails and trimming back the brambles that were encroaching a little too far.

Although small this little piece of woodland is clearly loved by people nearby – and I can understand why. It’s supremely peaceful.

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By the time we’d returned to the reserve there was a definite need for coffee (isn’t there always?) and thankfully they had a really nice little cafe.

Initially I was confused. Normally there’s an unspoken table etiquette where you leave (if possible) a distance between you and the person at the next table – however in this cafe everyone was sitting close to each other, by the window. It was then I realised that the ground outside was teeming with bullfinches, sparrows, robins, blue tits, blackbirds, and chaffinches.

There were loads of bird feeders full of nuts, seeds and fat and the little guys were loving it!

This pretty much ruined any conversation we were having – as half way through a sentence both of us kept tailing off with ‘Oooh look at that!!!… Oh it’s gone!’ again and again.

Shortly after trying (and failing in most cases) to make conversation and take photos through cafe windows we moved on, headed for the car and then home.

However – sometimes it’s at the most unexpected moments when you see the nicest things, and just as we were driving out to the main road my companion noticed a slowly moving (I think it had a limp) but very beautiful pheasant. I stopped to let it cross the road – wound down the windows and quietly grabbed a couple of snaps as it passed by me and into the nearby reed beds.

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This site apparently used to be a quarry – and it’s very heartening indeed to see something that used to be an industrial hole in the ground returned to something that holds so much life and diversity.

Overall a leisurely 6(ish) miles of strolling yielded some of the most pleasant views of wildlife that I’ve seen in a while!

Stop and look at the flowers internet – you never know what you’ll see – and watch out for teeny tiny froggies!

Davey

 

Chair repairs

I feel somewhat re-energised this week.

My feet are almost recovered after their Sunday shredding and it’s becoming a bit less onerous to go for a walk now. Today it’s been absolutely sweltering – with a clear blue sky. In this respect it’s not been the best day to attack the garden – but the recycling gets picked up tomorrow and I find lately that I have a philosophical objection to leaving my green bin empty.

Today it was so full that by the time I’d nearly finished clipping bushes and levelling hedges I had to climb into it with some steps to jump up and down on the contents just so that I could fit the last lot of grass clippings in.

My garden’s not going to win any beauty contests at the moment (particularly in the category of grass coverage) but crucially it’s still under control and that’s all I care about currently.


It’s also still home to lots of birds – who regardless of my pruning still seem to want to make it their go to destination for a dust bath on the left hand side.

It looks like there’s a new baby robin in town too – who’s all fluffy and mottled. He’s been darting back and forth quite a bit looking for tasty morsels in the grass and seems quite interested in me.

My resident house sparrows appear to still be living up to their names and are commuting in and out of the eaves my roof regularly – but I don’t mind – as long as they stop for the occasional picture!

In other news I decided the other day that an item of furniture that’s been sitting broken (although you’d never be able to tell unless you sat on it) in my living room for about two years needed to be dealt with.

It used to be great.

It was a John Lewis armchair and I was really happy with it when I bought it. Although it was expensive it reeked of quality and we were very happy together.

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In truth it was less of an armchair and more of a small ‘snuggler’. The idea for ‘normal people’ (whoever the hell they are) was that they’d wrap themselves in pillows (or around a partner) before tucking their legs in and relaxing with a cup of tea in front of the telly.

In my case I filled it. Completely.

My stomach went to the ends of the arm rests.

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This is how I now fit into it’s duplicate twin…

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I struggled to get out of it a lot of the time back then, and the pressure that my 34.5 stone brought to bear on it finally made something snap in the frame.

It’s not every day your fat ass costs you a fortune  – but that day each cheek was individually responsible for £350.

I was gutted. Although I had two identical chairs this was one of the few places that I could find comfort – apart from lying on my left side (I couldn’t lie on my back or right side because I couldn’t breathe).

Things had got so bad (although I never told anyone this at the time) that just sitting still had become intensely uncomfortable in almost all seats. No matter how I tried to shift my huge weight something hurt. If I relieved the pain on my back then my ankles began to swell – if I moved to prevent water retention then my spine quickly complained.

Toward the end I often ended up sleeping in my armchair when I had trouble breathing and nodding off lying down.

So it was a dark day when I heard it crack.

I genuinely intended to try and fix it – and right up until a few days ago that was the plan – but when I took the base off and saw the splintered wood and all the snapped screws at the front I decided that not only did I no longer consider it worth the effort – but that it was a blatant reminder of someone that I no longer am.

Much of my house feels the same way sometimes and I often think that if money was no object I’d destroy all of the (perfectly usable) items that represent the old me.

For the moment though, this huge chair will suffice.

Since no one wants busted furniture sitting on the front lawn waiting for pickup today I decided to take the more energetic route and saw it into chunks.

Despite it having broken under my old weight I found it impossible to snap it again with my current weight. By any standards it was a really well made item of furniture with some top quality wood inside it. In all it took me an hour of sawing and sweating in the sunshine to separate it into parts small enough to fit into my car so I could take it to the tip.

So what next?

Well I have my IKEA Poang chair, purchased from the recycling centre a few weeks ago for £10 (a stunning 70 times cheaper than it’s John Lewis predecessor) and my matching footstool (£4).

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The only problem is that my mind will not allow me to sit in it without it being propped up against the wall. I simply can’t conceive of a world where I’m actually light enough to not break it.

I know that it’s rated by ikea to hold up to 26st (I’m currently almost exactly 20) so it shouldn’t be a problem – but honestly I couldn’t take the disappointment if it broke. Instead I’m going to put it in the living room for other people to sit on until such time as I feel secure enough to do so myself.

In other news there’s still no sign of my little buddy. Apple Watch is still MIA and there’s no news in my inbox about whether or not it’s expected to pull through. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve glanced at my wrist today and frankly it’s doing my head in.

I can’t get it back soon enough internet. I am in a timeless world without haptic feedback or heart monitoring.

I’m living in the flipping stone age I tell you.

Davey

And then there were none…

Today has been my longest day gardening yet – and even if I do say so myself I’ve done a LOT. I started at 8am and finished just after 3 when I finally stopped for lunch. The weather has been changeable – but (despite dire weather predictions) it’s been a pretty nice day to put in some hard graft. The sun has been appearing on and off all day with only a little bit of rain to spoil things occasionally.

When I started doing this three weeks ago everything was aching all the time and I really felt the burn in the evenings – however now the work involved is becoming pretty routine. My arms and shoulders are definitely getting used to sustained gardening (seven flipping hours of it no less!) which they’ve never really had to before.

Visually however this had been a less than spectacular day and the garden doesn’t look massively different from yesterday when I stand back to see where I am. Most of the hard work has been chopping up what I’ve already cut away (this took a gruelling four hours) or removing buried rubbish and ivy.

About two years ago in high wind the ancient fence collapsed by my shed (it was also helped by the neighbour who decided to push it over and put a new one in its place without asking) and since I wasn’t really mobile enough to clear it up I just left the remnants next to the new fence to go rotten.

Although it wasn’t really how I planned it this has made its removal a lot easier for the most part – as it pretty much falls to bits when you push it into bags. Although the area by the fence is not completely finished I think I’ve made a good start.

With the branches from yesterday and the bits of rotten wood and ivy that were knotted together I’ve not only managed to pack solid to the brim my green recycling bin (which was emptied this morning and immediately re-filled for the third time) but taken another 6 bags to the tip, bringing the total to 62.

However – regardless of what I’ve been doing – throughout I’ve only had one thing on my mind.

The blackbird nest.

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It was abandoned when I came out this morning. Overnight high wind had pushed the branch that I’d laid over it as cover last week onto it’s side. It looked like it had forced the female blackbird away from her eggs and she was no-where to be seen.

I hurriedly removed the obstruction and checked the eggs.

They seemed intact.

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I started work by the shed – wanting to stay as far away as I could.

I was initially worried that maybe a predator had killed the female bird overnight. It had been awful weather. Had the exposure affected her? If she was on the ground had a cat or fox got her? I stopped what I was doing and looked around under the bush where the nest was.

There was no sign of a struggle. There were no feathers on the lawn.

And then almost an hour later I heard her usual song. She was on the roof, taking a bath in the guttering!

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However she seemed to have absolutely no interest in returning to the nest and when she’d finished her ablutions was instead spending her time preening herself and sitting in the sunshine nearby.

The male blackbird stopped by their nest in the meantime, had a quick look in and immediately flew off again. From that point onwards he was absent for the rest of the day.

I tried not to think about it. Maybe she would return to the nest…

I Googled how long eggs can be left after an incubation period has started. Not long it seems. If she didn’t come back soon there would be little hope.

In the meantime there were lots of other spirited residents in the garden to take my mind off the matter. I noticed that going in and out of my roof is another little family of house sparrows.

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These little guys are amazingly quick and nimble when they fly about and I’m glad they seem to like where they live as I read that they’ve declined in the UK by 70% (almost as fast it seems as a Conservative majority in parliament) since I was a child. Back then they seemed to be everywhere.

The one in the picture below with the black bib is the male – and his mate is a light brown colour. She’s been close by to him all day – and paying close attention to what he’s doing as he collects materials for what seems to be a nest in the eaves of my roof.

He’s been particularly interested in stripping the dead ivy on my back wall, and pulled several little straw strips off before retreating to his home.

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Between the two little sparrows the garden felt like it was a hive of activity. They were continually fluttering around and performing tight turns and fidgety changes of direction in mid air.

When they weren’t doing that they were singing and taking dust baths.

My movement of rubbish has also produced a number of frog sightings today – and there was quite a variety to see. Today there were three distinctly different sizes and colours. My particular favourite is the little yellow one climbing the wall. Shortly after the photo he nearly hopped over my head to make his getaway.

Admittedly I’m not sure what variety these are (I could just look them up I guess) but I think they’re all really pretty – although I know one of my close friends in particular doesn’t share my opinion.

For that reason alone I apologise for the following gratuitously close up frog shots.

After taking these photos I headed off to the tip to drop off the refuse I’d created before the tip closed for the day. When I came back I immediately looked at the nest again.

Disaster

The eggs were now punctured. From the outside.

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There were no signs of life.

So – it looks like on this occasion my intervention and maybe bad weather too have put paid to this little clutch of potential blackbirds. It seems that they were never meant to be.

This genuinely made me sad – but I guess like the swanlings who disappear so quickly this is just life. Nature is cruel – and the blackbird (who was still sitting in the sun nearby) was just getting on with things.

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She seemed healthy and I can only hope that her mate is off somewhere constructing a new nest for her to populate.

Fingers crossed internet.

Maybe – just maybe – there will be little baby sparrows instead…

Davey