Thursday 9 August 2018

The written word and the reading voice

This is mostly a post for writers, though I think it is equally interesting for pure readers too. So here’s a thing. I write as me, no surprises there. What I mean by that is that what I write is actually what I speak. And what I mean by that is that I type words onto the page I am speaking them in my head as me. So what I see on the page when I am finished, to me at least, seems a perfect representation of what I wanted to say verbally. Kind of. Some things you cannot write adequately. Nevertheless, for the most part I can imagine myself saying it, as essentially I have done just that a few moments ago. I hear it in my own particular style and timbre. I know where I place emphasis, or where my voice would naturally inflect, such as the falling pitch at the end of a sentence. I know where I would pause, I know where I would continue without taking a breath. But whilst I can try my best to represent that with commas, with italics, with dots (…), dashes (-), brackets, underlining and other various other punctuation marks or constructs, really only I understand how I would have said something, and therefore when what I write is being read by others (which is after all the whole point), I do worry from time to time that it simply may not work, and that the reader won’t grasp what I am trying to say, or at least not in quite the desired way. I tend to worry less about sentence length. Anyway, I thought I would just mention that to me my words sound exactly as I expect them to, but for anyone else, well let’s just say their mileage may vary.

Well actually that is not quite true. A few hardy souls who continue to read this blog have actually had the great pleasure/misfortune (delete as appropriate) of meeting me in person. Some, for instance local birders or family friends, may in fact know me quite well, indeed some may have known me for many years. For those lucky people I imagine that they can read it as I would speak it. Or at least I expect them to, I may be wrong. Certainly when I read something written by people I know I will tend to read it in their ‘voice’. When reading letters or emails from my parents say, or messages from Mrs L, my sister or my children, I ‘hear’ them speaking. In the same vein there is a radio variety show I am very fond of called “A Prairie Home Companion” which was for many years hosted by a man called Garrison Keillor. He also writes books that involve a particular sketch from the show, a monologue called “The News from Lake Wobegon”, and when I’ve read those books I’ve read them as Garrison – frankly it was impossible not to. It’s an interesting concept isn’t it? As I say, my assumption is that other people do this too but I would love to know for certain.

But coming back to the original point, I suspect that many people who read what I write, and read it regularly, will have ‘translated’ my punctuation (in so far as that is even possible - I tend to take many liberties, this bracketed interlude is a prime example) into what they think I sound like, and so every time they open up a post they may subconsciously revert into reading it in a style that they believe is me. Personally I think that is entirely natural, and it’s certainly something I do to words written by bloggers who I have never met. Equally if I read a long novel written in the first person, after a time I may develop an interpretation of what the protagonist sounds like and then carry that forward for the rest of the book. Entirely in my head. Having read certain bloggers’ posts, or certain author’s books over many years I have conceived an idea of what they sound like, and as I read I slip into their ‘voice’. Now of course this may be – and probably is – a million miles away from what they sound like in person. I was tempted to say ‘in real life’ but as we all know blogging is real life hem hem. But if I were ever to meet one of these people face to face might I be rather surprised, perhaps even disappointed (!), that I have been reading them ‘wrong’ for all this time? Perhaps the best example I have is of listening to a short audio clip from a blogger who I had read for years and for whom I had developed a ‘voice’, only to discover that they spoke completely different from how I had imagined them. In some ways it was actually shocking. I felt I knew somebody but in fact I didn’t – and this was somebody who writes very, very well - how could they have got themselves so wrong?! I had the same experience once of hearing an audiobook after having read a few physical books, I think it was Bill Bryson reading one of his own books - it just wasn’t right even though it was him! Can a voice be said to define a person? Surely not, but more interesting is that having heard that blogger speak I found it very difficult – in fact, impossible -  to change my preconceived idea of what they sounded like when I next read one of their posts. Very strange how the written and spoken words both interact and diverge. Knowing somebody well eliminates that issue, but I do wonder if I were one day to meet a person whose output I consume whether I would find that encounter odd or somehow affirming? 

And trying to answer my own question, if a regular reader were to bump into me one day out birding, would they be surprised to find me different from how they imagined I sounded, or surprised that in fact I sounded exactly as they had interpreted the way I wrote? Who knows? I think it is safe to say however that they would nonetheless be disappointed….

Tuesday 7 August 2018

Insects abound

My herb bed has finished being edible for the year and is flowering like crazy - of particular attraction to legions of hoverflies and hordes of Tachina Fera is the mint. The mint is nice to eat for about a month in late spring, then it bolts and goes to seed, or flower, or whatever. Given mint is so easy to grow I could rip it up and do something else with the space but it is good for the bugs and then it saves me replanting it in the spring.

Tachina fera on mint

I also planted some kind of sunflower as it said it was good for bees and butterflies - tithionia is the latin name. So far it is living up to its billing and there are loads of things on it, including ants for some reason. Anyway, I dusted off the macro lens and took a few photos. Very hard work, birds are a lot easier!

Honeybee - not as common as they used to be

I think this is Myathropa florea, or the Common Batman Hoverfly

Monday 6 August 2018

An armchair full of Magpies

I am writing this sat in my armchair, which is where I retire to whenever IOC revisions are on the cards. This week I learned that one Magpie is to become five Magpies, which is really excellent news for any listing fan out there. I’m not obviously, I am just recounting this in case any of you reading are. Because a Magpie was a Magpie, it is quite hard to work out which of these splits I’ve actually seen. The only one I can remember with any clarity is the North African version (mauritanica) which I caught up with in Morocco back in 2014. It is fair to say that it is quite different, to the extent that I am surprised that it was not revised earlier.

Here is a normal Eurasian Magpie (pica) for comparison. Distinctly lacking in blue eye skin.

Another split is Oriental Magpie (sericea) - I wasn't sure about this but luckily I'm a traditionalist and keep notebooks. I looked back at my write-ups and lists and discovered I had Magpie listed in Hong Kong. Excellent. No photo though, it was just a Magpie remember.

The remaining two species resulting from the split are in Saudi Arabia (asirensis), so I'm unlikely to see that any time soon, and Western China (bottanensis), ditto.There are also two other Pica species from America, and I've seen them both - Yellow-billed Magpie and Black-billed Magpie. I'd seen the latter in Washington State, but only recently got the former in California on a family holiday last year. Which means I've seen five out of seven, which is not bad going. T

Sunday 5 August 2018

Sunset over the Flats

The rest of my birding weekend did not live up to the glory of Saturday morning, but no matter. I forgot to say that the Godwit was also my 100th bird of the year here. And to think that when I moved here I thought a total of 70 was unbeatable! I went out birding again this morning, but lightning does not strike twice and the Alex was a wader-free zone. The Ornamentals in the Park were teeming with Little Egrets and Herons though, with 27 of the former - a record for me but some way shy of the monster 39 counted last weekend. When I went last weekend only a few hours after the 39 I counted two....

Have some sunset photos. I had a little foray out onto the Flats on Saturday evening and had a play with the camera. Light was nice, but the area struggles with focal points.

Saturday 4 August 2018

Black(wit) Gold

Last night I made a plan. I would get up early and go birding. Then I would go to the sorting office to pick up a parcel. Then I would go to the dump. And then I would go shopping so that I wouldn't have to eat any more tomatoes. You could make a movie about my life... Normally when I make plans that involve waking up early to go birding what happens is that I do indeed wake up early, but then I flop around in bed for an hour and the opportunity passes. Not so this morning, and so just before 6am I was walking around Alex checking for waders. It appeared I had beaten the dog walkers for once, and although I could see a couple out for a walk ahead of me they were thankfully not tracking right on the edge. The place was mine.

At the eastern corner I scanned back along the south side, nothing. Then I scanned the east side up towards the road. Gah!! There was a Black-tailed Godwit stood on the edge preening. I could honestly not believe it, I mean, really? This is the stuff dreams are made of! The enormity of what I was looking at began to sink in. I grabbed a record shot in case it flew (which I fully expected it to do any moment), cruel luck that I didn't have the big lens with me, and then started to try and tell people. I was shaking like a leaf by this point, this is what local patch birding does to you. You simply don't get this kind of emotion twitching things, I can't really begin to describe it.

I alerted the local WhatsApp group, just about managing to type out the magic words on the keyboard as my fingers fluttered. After getting the all-important record shot, the first thing that I had to do was let fellow patch-workers know. I honestly could not imagine who wouldn't do this, these moments simply need to be shared. It would be a fabulous blocker and who doesn't like a good blocker, but that just isn't the way it works. We are a group and whilst there is friendly competition we're all in it together. I've been birding here for 14 years and this is my first as most waders are totally mega here.....then I realised it was my 150th bird for the patch, and was stunned all over again. Meanwhile the bird had resumed feeding so I went around the eastern edge to get the light behind me and some better photos. The bird was remarkably tame all things considered - had I had a longer lens I could have murdered it. 

Lying on the ground I spotted Tony wandering around the south edge of the lake. He didn't seem to be hurrying.... I waved, he waved back. I pointed at the bank, but I think he thought I was photographing a Gull or something! With all other options exhausted I shouted and pointed! This got his attention, as did the bird flying a short distance along the edge of the water! Now he started running! When he arrived he too was in disbelief, a patch Black-tailed Godwit and on the deck too. It was a beautiful bird, loads of summer colour still and it seemed to be fairly settled. I thought about heading home for the big lens but I was enjoying the moment too much, it isn't necessarily always about the image. Bob turned up having hurried across the Flats after getting my news, it was a tick for him too - in fact the only people who had Blackwit on their lists are Nick with a flyover a few years back and then (naturally) Dan Dan the Wader Man with six in the Park (although we suspect he brought them with him and then released them...). So whilst it has now reduced somewhat in patch blocker value it remains a great patch bird and I am beyond delighted. 

150 species, a personal milestone - 14 years diligently (and not so diligently!) birding the patch proves beyond any doubt that inland urban birding is hard work. Waders are the big target here, we know they fly between the reservoirs and the river, it's just a question of being there either when they go over or being jammy enough to encounter one on the deck. The Godwit happens to be my 14th species of Wader, so a rather neat one per year since I moved here. Bob, Tony and I checked out the Ornamentals in case species #15 had decided to drop in. It hadn't and so I was able to continue with my plan. You had forgotten about my plan? I hadn't. You will be pleased to hear the remaining elements all went perfectly, but probably don't require description. Things are not yet that dire.

Odd duck

Note the can of Fosters floating in the background. I hate people.

Thursday 2 August 2018

Financial planning

I have never really been one for budgeting, but the recent Chateau improvements have been so painful that I have been forced to actually keep track of outgoings. I have subsequently discovered that no matter how carefully I map things out it is inevitable that something comes along out of the blue and ruins everything. This month it was our annual home insurance policy. I opened the banking app on my phone expecting to bask in the rosy glow of having the balance down to the penny, only to discover I was massively overdrawn again. Naturally I could not find the latest paper statement, and it goes without saying that I had forgotten the password for online banking to access the pdf ones. And then in trying to remember it I obviously failed miserably and ended up locking the account.  This meant a phone call to an anonymous call centre and being asked a ton of security questions – and all of this before 7am – before I could finally get to the bottom of why, once again, my financial planning had been an abject failure.

I don’t know why I was surprised. I’ve been tracking our daily cashflow (on a spreadsheet of happiness.... well, unhappiness actually) for about nine months now, and not once have I ever been right. If I had gone with my original forecast of where we would be by late July 2018 I would have been extremely cheery. As it is I am downright depressed at how quickly money seems to just vanish. I keep hoping I might be a victim of fraud but actually it is just me and my inability to remember anything or actually save a dime. Each month I naively line up a move of cash from the current account to a savings account, in my mind watching the nest egg grow, and then each month what actually happens is that I need to take money out of the savings account to top up the current account. Luckily I had saved up a bit in happier times as otherwise we would be in a fair amount of trouble.

The biggest drain has been the renovations. Even though the builders left fully seven months ago, the state of our finances suggests they must still be working up on the roof somewhere. I love the new space that we have, but if someone had told me before we started that the financial implications of having it done would stretch for decades I might have had second thoughts. Initially I predicted things would be back to normal by March. March then became May, and shortly afterwards June. This is a result of various things - it is apparently common knowledge that whatever you budget for a building project will come in at roughly 80% of what you actually end up spending. I can now confirm this is true. Things just come along that you never would have expected - the bed not fitting up the new stairs was a classic, as was discovering that the quote didn't include the bathroom. Or the windows. So now my spreadsheet suggests November, which realistically means March 2019 as all sorts of nasty things come along in January , including the tax man – well, tax men plural to be more accurate as I unfortunately have two of them to satisfy and they both appear to delight in wrecking my savings ambitions.

I am not looking for sympathy. Times remain tough, but as I work in financial services I am presumed to be immune from austerity and equally, you might think, to be able to actually engage in accurate financial planning. To a certain extent the really hard choices are ones I don’t have to make and for that I am grateful, but I am really annoyed that even with a decent job I just can’t stabilise the downward spiral. Anyway, must dash, got some holidays to book.

This is a not a real booking as I'm sure you realise, I would never spend anything like this on a trip. I just found it amusing that on an $11,000 fare you could 'save' as much as $37. 

Wednesday 1 August 2018

Office palaeontology

I work in an accountancy function for a very large company. It is, as you would expect, a barrel of laughs. Mandatory compliance training, new regulation issued by the European financial regulator, wall to wall meetings and self appraisals. Every now and again however something genuinely interesting crops up. Today we discovered archaeology.

It is fair to say that it is within the recent record, however what it reveals about the habits of my office co-workers is truly astounding. Let us for a moment imagine that I have two colleagues called Kerry and Neil -  random names to protect the subjects of this research of course. They are creatures of habit, and wedded to their work they eat most of their daylight meals at their desks, sourced from the staff canteen and transported upstairs on trays. I learned earlier this week whilst examining the record stack of used trays (27, we keep stats) that Neil always and without exception picks an orange tray and that Kerry always picks a red tray. Hah! This revelation allows us to use the fossil record to piece together their lives. Study for a minute the following photo. What does it tell us?

For starters it tells us that most employees don't use trays as the majority of the supply is currently at the end of the bank of desks where Neil and Kerry sit. However moving on from this we can tell that Kerry has been on holiday recently - there are seven orange trays in a row towards the bottom of the pile. I questioned Kerry if she had been anywhere recently, and she had indeed been on holiday. Incredible! She was only back for one meal however, unless Neil was particularly hungry on one day, but then again she does also work from home one day a week, could this be it? Yes, it transpires that this is exactly what happened. For a while normality reigns. Neil, Kerry, Neil, Kerry, and then it looks like Kerry went out for lunch as we revert to orange. This really throws a spanner in the works, as does the discovery that Neil and Kerry don't always have breakfast. Nonetheless the last four days have been extremely regular. Neil always has lunch first, almost always at midday, meetings permitting. Kerry always eats later, hence the red tray right on the top. If ever the wall-mounted clocks fail I can simply glance at the pile of trays and work out roughly what time of day it is. One day of course there is remote possibility that a cleaner might clear away the pile, but as the days go by and the pile increases in height that becomes less and less likely. This is about three weeks worth and I think we are probably past the point of no return. I've been at my desk when the cleaners come round on their nightly shift, and the amount of vacuuming that occurs is roughly 3% of the floor area so a large pile of trays is likely to be far too much effort. 

I know what you are thinking. What colour tray do I use? I don't. I bring my lunch up in a pathetic recycled cardboard container. I am unfortunately wholly lost to science.