Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ramsey Canyon

What a wonderful place! This nature reserve, just 28 miles from the border with Mexico (don't go after dark! It's not just the bears that'll get you), is a beautiful little canyon that is home to many amazing animals and birds native to Arizona.

My first and most favourite is the hummingbird - and the conservancy put out feeders so you can just sit back and watch those beauties buzz around like feathered bees.  Most of them are no more than a few inches long - and their flight patterns almost impossible to follow as they zoom around to sip nectar  (whether it's in a flower or a feeder).

The best photographs, consequently, are of them at rest. But I have a whole lot more pictures on my flickr account - just take a look when you get the chance. 

However, as soon as we pulled up in the parking lot at the Canyon, the first thing I saw was some hawk zoom into the woods next to us. I got the camera out and took a shot through the trees - it was a Cooper's Hawk I think. Anyway, he posed a good while, so I got some nice pictures.

We entered the Canyon and the scenery was amazing - unlike where I'm staying up near Phoenix (which is desert) this is a lush green environment with beautiful trees and mountains.

As well as the birdlife, we saw lots of squirrels and lizards. As we came out of the canyon, one of the conservancy workers was very excited as he'd just seen a bobcat and a deer. We were also told that early in the morning (on the higher trail which we didn't take) someone had seen a bear and a mountain lion. The bear was likely, the lion not quite so - but it was amazing to think we were so close to these wild creatures. And reassuring to know we were unlikely to bump into them too!

We spent a good few hours in the canyon walking just over a mile - but it was wonderful just to look at the birds and the plants, listening to the gently burbling stream and admiring the handiwork of early settlers who'd built their log cabins and managed to eke out a living in this lush, but difficult environment over a hundred years ago.

If you love wildlife and are going to Arizona or south New Mexico, don't miss out. Ramsey Canyon is a real treasure.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Buddy can you spare a biscuit?

Halfway to Sierra Vista and we stop over at a well known fried chicken emporium where a dandy white suit and a bowtie are the preferred attire of the founder.

We went in and Nad said 'you have to try a biscuit'. This was following a conversation in the car (road trip!) about cookies, crackers and biscuits.

In this instance, a biscuit was a scone. A savoury scone - but nonetheless light, fluffy, round and about an inch and a half high. But this wasn't a scone, this was a biscuit. And very tasty it was too - unlike the dried up carcass of spiced chicken limb accompanied by 'wedges' (which were, I believe, once parts of a potato).

After completely confusing the gent serving us with my English accent, we ate our meal and looked at the view outside, admiring the amazing scenery. Buddy (he wore a anme badge on his bright red shirt) came out to talk to us. 'Noticed the camera'. Though he may not have served us the best meal in the world, he turned out to be a valuable contributor to our road trip.  Buddy told us how he'd 'worked in nearly all the states in the US, fifteen of them' (funny, I thought there were more than that) and how he loved this place the best.

And Buddy told us about Ramsey Canyon, just south of Sierra Vista. He told us how to get there, and how we could see hummingbirds (on that word I was instantly sold, of course) just everywhere.

We visted Ramsey Canyon, part of The Nature Conservancy, the next day and it turned out to be a wonderful place. We spent a whole morning there - I could have spent a week. So thanks Buddy, I'll always be grateful for your tip, if not the stomach ache.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Three strikes and you're ... very confused!

My first baseball game! Between the Arizona Diamondbacks (D-Backs) and the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was, I am told, one of the worst games that any of my American friends had ever seen! There was very little hitting of the ball, lots of waiting around and they only seemed to score in binary... 0,0,0,1,0...

But the advantage of the game being slow was that Sean could explain every move and game play to me as we went along and I didn't miss a thing. Well, how can you when most of the play is just something that happens between adverts?

Oh, and 'kiss cam', and the mascot race, and the camera zooming around the stadium to encourage people to gasp with amazement as they see themselves live on the huge screen. This inevitably prompted them to displays of dancing, hands over wide open mouth and mad waving.

OK, so back to the game. This was the second game in a series of 3. The D-backs won the first game - but the Pirates were up (and indeed won) this time. D-backs in white, pirates in black and grey. There's the pitcher (which is like a bowler, not a huge jug), and the batters (or batsmen? I'm not sure). There are bases which get loaded (batters on them, not drunk) and a mound that the pitcher stands on. They don't always run, sometimes they get a walk. That's usually because of four bad balls. But if the pitcher throws three stikes, which means the batter misses and the catcher catches, then the batsman is out. And it goes three in, change - team, next three in - change. So it's fast paced as per who is batting.

There are nine innings, unless something happens earlier on which means... ooh I don't know. A home run is hitting the ball right outside the yellow line (forwards only, sideways or behind is out). I didn't see any of them. But lots of long high balls that were caught.

Of course I had to have 'baseball game food'. I had nachos and cheese. My friends  had hot dogs and a huge apple covered in toffee and chocolate sprinkles.

Three hours later, and about 5 or six runs later (made up in stages, not home runs), I had seen my first complete ball game.

Summary: take cricket, mix it with rounders and then throw in some random rules = baseball. Oh, and a lot of fun actually too.

For more photos, visit my Flickr account.

Monday, September 19, 2011

San Tan Sunrise

5am. The air is chill. Crickets sing lazy goodnight an the sky turns amber. Outlines of mountains, trees and seguaro, profiles sharp and clear. Silent cyclist clicks by. Sweet smell of fresh cut grass - so strange in this desert - as the early morning routine upon the golf course takes its path towards the burgeoning heat. I sit and listen, and watch. My head full of words.

Monday, September 12, 2011


When starting a new job there's always a lot to take in. Whether it's the organisational structure, a new field, or simply the kind of work you are doing, there's a learning curve to be followed.

My new job is no exception, and I'm learning some fascinating stuff. As well as getting stuck into the marketing side of my job, I'm beginning to understand more about medical research (a good follow on to what I did at Cambridge many years ago) and dementia.

One thing I picked up on pretty quickly is that Alzheimer's is a disease like any other - like cancer or liver disease. It is not a 'natural part of ageing' (though occurs more as people get older) and is not a psychological condition. It's your brain being affected by various things which deteriorate the brain and impair function. You aren't mentally ill - you have a disease. Big difference. See the picture I found on the internet? It shows you a healthy brain, a brain with dementia, and then compares the two. It's a real, physical thing, not a state of mind. Imagine if that was your heart, or liver, or kidneys...

The scary thing is the fact that with our ever-ageing population here in the West, it is going to become more and more prevalent - to the extent that 1 in 3 over 65 are going to have some form of dementia in the next decade or so. I'll be in that profile then. So will many of my friends.

So - scare factor? Well, I guess I am as scared of Alzheimer's as I am of cancer - but the difference is that the symptoms of dementia don't just affect the individual, they affect everyone around them so much more. I have a very good friend who's father has advanced Alzheimer's. The effect on my friend and her siblings, on his wife, on all of them - I could easily call it devastating. But for them it's caring for the person they love, even though he is not really with them any more. And at the moment there is very little that can be done medically to help. In his case, virtually nothing.

But people know about the difficulties of the disease, and mostly seem to understand the symptoms (and are often tempted to make jokes about something that really isn't funny for the family or the person with dementia).

I guess my take on this is that Alzheimer's and dementia has the public face that cancer used to have two generations ago when it was only ever referred to as 'the big C'. People didn't mention cancer, or talk about having it. It was a social taboo because it was so often associated with fatality. There are now lots of treatments for cancer and there has been some terrific work done to combat causes (like smoking!) and reduce risk. But it's still part of our lives and something people can talk about and discuss and help support individuals and families through. The taboo has been dropped. That's one heck of a sea-change in social attitude. But it is happening - slowly the Government are listening (thanks to lobbying organisations and individuals such as the amazing Mr Pratchett) and - let's face it - with statistics like this, it's something that can't be ignored. 

So why isn't it like that with dementia? I think it's scare factor, because the disease affects behaviour, not just physical condition. People don't know how to talk to individuals with dementia - I certainly don't have any real experience; just a few friends whose families have a close member with the disease. And there is no 'right way' of handling it I guess - it's up to the individual, the circumstance, the stage of the disease. It's a case of adapting and understanding.

Changing the attitude of society will take generations - but in generations (as with cancer) we could very well make inroads into tackling the causes and symptoms of the disease so that families and individuals with dementia can actually enjoy a better quality of life. The aim is to one day have treatments and cures that will have a real impact. So much has already been done, what could still be achieved is hope for the future for everyone.

Recommended reading:

Information about dementia
Recommended websites:

Alzheimer's Research UK
Alzheimer's Association (US care and research association)
Azlheimer's Disease (the Wiki entry)
Alzheimer's Society (UK care organisation) 

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Why would a woman who is my age want to get a tattoo? Mid life crises? Very late onset teenage rebellion?

No, it's very simple. For many years now I have felt so bad about myself - I still refer to myself as OFU - old fat and ugly. After all, the facts is the facts. I've had a terrible few years where my self-esteem was not only low, but constantly undermined from lots of directions. I'd keep struggling on, and make some ground, only to have it pulled from under me like a rug on a polished wood floor.

I went swimming last night for the first time in a year. I swim very slowly, but steadily. I have no technique to speak of other than one that suits me. I enjoy it, it makes me feel good and I am in a nice quiet place in my mind when I swim.

And that's when it hit me. My tattoo is the first thing about me that I can say is beautiful. It is a part of me that I am not ashamed of - and even though it is an addition rather than actually me - I am pleased to have something beautiful about me for the first time in my life.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Deepdale Cowboy

At a party last night a lady said to me "I know that voice, it's the Deepdale cowboy." Yes, she meant me. So, why the Deepdale cowboy and what was the party like? Two little tales which I am happy to relate.

Some months ago I went on a walk in Norfolk, from Burnham Deepdale. My current blog portrait is from that weekend, so perhaps you can see where the 'cowboy' reference comes from. I did also have my stetson from Arizona with me, in case it rained. So, the Deepdale cowboy it is (or I am)!

At last night's party, where so addressed as the Deepdale cowboy, I was in fact dressed in a pilot's uniform, complete with hat, gold be-ribboned sleeves, shirt and tie. Oh, and high heel boots. What decent pilot wouldn't wear high heeled boots, whilst stumbling about in a field with guitar and wine in hand.

To explain a little further - I was invited, along with some friends, to a nautically themed party. Now maybe being a pilot wasn't exactly very nautical, but as my three friends were dressed as jellyfish, we attended as 'Captain Birdseye and her amazing dancing jellyfish'. In the end I announced that I was in fact Captain Smith of the Titanic and that no one should panic, she's unsinkable.

The jellyfish costumes were see-through umbrellas with bits of bubble wrap and other colourful threads hanging from them, and looked a lot of fun. Other costumes at the party included someone dressed as a lifeboat, a few pirates, quite a few seamen/women, a couple more jellyfish and some folks dressed ready for the beach - complete with inflatables.

To reach our destination we headed, four of us (the jellyfish and the captain) in a Ford KA to deepest darkest Bedfordshire. Along a main road, then a village road, then a side road, and eventually down a dirt track (which tickled the belly of the poor little car) to a huge farm house. We parked in a field where other guests were cavorting - setting up tents, getting out costumes and generally congregating. Once unloaded, which included jellyfish umbrellas, wine and four fold-up chairs, we headed into the grounds around the farm.

By now it was dark, but not cold. There was not a lot of light, but some tea light lanterns led us into the party venue which was the grounds around the house. It was a garden party with a difference. Amongst the trees, on bumpy grassy ground (eveyr now and then I would sink into the earth), were some marquees. One was open sided and had a small stage, food and drink all laid out. As it got darker, you just had to take a guess at what the food was as you ladled it on to your plate.

One marquee was very low and lit like a gypsy boudoir (or as one might be, I imagine), another had sheets of hanging pale blue gossamer like fabric that was the 'undersea adventure', with hanging glass fish and other decorations. From the trees hung nets, shells and very possibly things like sharks and whales - but you really couldn't see.

We set up camp next to the beach. Now you may not be aware of many beaches in the middle of Bedfordshire, but this one was very special. There was water, a sandy shore and, at the far end, a cocktail bar. To acquire a cocktail, one had to either brave the small inflatable boat (which 'Jack' from the Titanic did, but alas - as per the movie - resulted in a very wet and bedraggled individual) or wade out in your bare feet. The bar was stewarded by Batman's arch rival, the Penguin.

Now just in case this wasn't surreal enough for you, the main attraction in the food/drink/music marquee was a rather handsome pirate with gold lamee trousers and an assortment of squeezeboxes. He was a mighty fine player and a good singer, and some sea shanties were duly delivered. I played along on my guitar - with his consent.

So picture this - a cool balmy Bedfordshire evening in the grounds of a farm house, the quacking of annoyed ducks in the distance, a singing pirate accompanied by a playing pilot surrounded by dancing mermaids, sailors and variously otherwise designated nautical individuals. And it being quite dark as well.

If we met people we knew, it was by chance. You couldn't really see who people were until you were right up close, unless you were in one of the better lit marquees. But it was much more fun outside anyway.

We set up camp next to the shore (where one of our jellyfish decided to make some sandcastles) was also next to a huge pile of wood ready for a late night camp fire. As the evening progressed, the fire was lit and people came around to enjoy the glow. Guitar in hand I played some songs and had different people join in at different times. One young lady pirate (bemoaning the loss of her partner, who was dressed as an ice cream), insisted I play some Abba. I gave it my best shot. Which was, alas, rather far off the mark. I had earlier played American Pie and one of our dancers had been the ice cream. Though my folk songs are not exactly campfire material, I managed to belt out a few joiny-inny things and had a terrific time. One day I will buy myself an appropriate songbook to take with me to such events.

When at last our designated jellyfish decided it was time to go, I wandered ahead to escape a very persistent individual who wanted me to sing more (and who had earlier grabbed my bum and scared the life out of me as I was packing up). Only I got lost. I wandered up and down amongst the trees and couldn't work out where the car park was. I was rescued by a nice looking man who, it turned out, was actually the Penguin in mufti. Rather cute, lovely voice, but a tad too young for me.

I regained the car (via some cow poop) to find two out of three jellyfish ready for the off. The other had gone to look for me - trying to find a pilot with a guitar and a fold up chair. Luckily she returned in good time, realising I had been found.

The road home was conversely the dirt track, the side road, the village road, main road and then back to jellyfish number one's house. After a relaxing natter, I slid into the guest bed and pondered what had been a very strange and highly enjoyable evening. A most excellent adventure!