Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Another Commercial Break

As, once again, I've completely lost the thread of what I was planning to write here today, let's cut to the commercial break, just like they used to on ITV in the seventies, whenever they encountered 'technical difficulties'.  (Such 'difficulties' tended to be Reggie Bosanquet being too drunk to read the News at Ten).  This particular selection, which I found posted on You Tube, look quite fascinating to twenty first century eyes, if nothing else for the kinds of things they were advertising in prime time back in 1970.  It seems inconceivable now that even as late as 1970 the UK had a coal mining industry so extensive and healthy that it had to run recruitment adverts on TV - nowadays you'd be hard pressed to actually find a working mine.  But these were the heady days before the Miner's Strike and when, despite the loss of British Rail as a major customer following the demise of steam traction in 1968, both industry and domestic customers in the UK were still largely dependent upon coal as a fuel source.

Equally strange - to contemporary eyes - is the lengthy advert encouraging people to emigrate to Australia, presenting it as some kind of fabulous land unknown.  But these were the days before we saw suburban Australia on a daily basis, courtesy of Neighbours and Home and Away, and the British public's impressions of the country were largely drawn from movies showing lots of deserts, nuclear tests and people herding sheep.  Consequently, they assumed that the only houses were broken down wooden shacks sitting in the middle of nowhere, inhabited by sweaty men in vests and wearing hats with corks on string dangling from the brim.  But if you wanted to stay at home, then clearly rail was the only way to travel - but only on British Rail's then new overhead electric services, (which only ran on West Coast services via the West Midlands in those days).  The locomotives and MK1 carriages might look quaint now, but back then, in 1970, they were cutting edge.  (Actually, the coaches weren't, they'd been superseded by the MK2 design in the late sixties, air conditioned versions of which were beginning to appear, making the choice of rolling stock for the advert rather odd).

These adverts are also a reminder of how fleeting fame can be: Fanny Craddock and her monocled husband/kitchen assistant Johnny were huge in the early seventies, but even ten years later were virtually forgotten.  She really was the original celebrity TV chef.  Indeed, like today's crop, she was also incredibly autocratic in her kitchen, making clear that hers was the only way to cook and constantly bullying and haranguing her underlings, (in this case, Johnny).  But she'd never do anything so vulgar as to swear on camera, though.  The commercial for the special On The Buses supplement is a reminder of just how big that show became, after only three series, making unlikely stars out of Reg Varney, Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis.  Watching repeats of the sitcom on ITV 4, it is hard to grasp the popularity the show once enjoyed.  Mind you, I'm sure that forty years on, people will be watching reruns of The Office and Miranda, say, and wondering why they were ever so popular.   

Finally, I have to make mention of the road safety film featuring Tufty the squirrel.  There seemed to be hundreds of these, but the one presented here, with the ice cream van, is the one I remember most vividly.  It made a huge impression on me as a child - like Tufty, I always told my mother where I was going and never went to the Ice Cream van unaccompanied.  Frustratingly, none of those kids who defied that advice ever got run over like Willie Weasel - most of them were complete bastards and I'd have loved to see them get hit by car, (but, like Willie, not severely injured, just left a bit humiliated).  It would have been Karma. But, sadly, as I learned, life isn't like public information films.


Monday, May 02, 2016

Baby Talk

As I got rather serious last time I posted here, and bearing in mind that it is a Bank Holiday, I thought that I'd keep the subject matter a bit lighter today.  So let's talk about babies - everyone loves them, don't they?   The British media seem to think so - especially when they are Royal babies.  The weekend saw us bombarded with pictures of one of them, (it's no good asking me which one, I'm simply not interested enough to care), which surprised me somewhat.  For one thing, I'm surprised that the media think that anyone is still interested.  I'd really hoped that the days when everyone fawned over cute pictures of Royals, even baby ones, were long over.  But the press clearly think differently.  I'm also surprised that they ran so many pictures of this infant because, well, they all look alike, don't they?  I mean, that could be any baby in the pictures, couldn't it?   I know that there are people out there right now saying that I'm wrong on this point, but they're probably the parents of young babies and consequently know their child intimately and could always pick them out from a crowd of infants.  But trust me, for those of us happily childless and not too keen on babies anyway, they all look the same.

Curiously though, despite not being at all keen on babies, I found my paternal instincts stirring the other day whilst watching an old film.  The film in question was Ken Loach's Poor Cow and I found myself increasingly irritated whilst watching it, by the main character's frequent neglect of her baby.  OK, I know that she was a single mother as a result of her violent husband going down for robbery and I know that she was living in poverty, but, at risk of sounding like a Daily Mail reader, that's no excuse.  It really shouldn't have taken nearly losing the kid when she left him to play with other local kids (he was a toddler by then, around eighteen months old) who took him off to a local demolition site, to make her realise how important he was to her.  I know it was only a film, but for some reason this aspect of the plot really riled me.  Something about it clearly touched my parental instincts which, regardless of whether we are parents or not, or whether we desire to have children or not, are innate in all of us and seem to activated by the must unexpected of sources.  I should add that pictures of babies, even Royal ones don't activate them.   That said, actual babies, even though I don't really like them, (I'm far happier with children when they're older), do tend to activate my protective instincts, (in truth, my uneasiness around babies might well be down to the fact that they seem so fragile to me and I'm subconsciously afraid that I might inadvertently injure them, so my protective instincts make me recoil from holding them).  So there you go, a bit of self analysis for a Bank Holiday Monday - much lighter than the anti-semitism allegations from last time!


Friday, April 29, 2016

Extreme Opinions

Well, it's all kicking off, isn't it?  What with this alleged 'civil war' in the Labour Party over anti-semitism.  I say 'alleged' because, outside of overheated media reports (mainly the mouth pieces of the Tory Party, let's not forget) I see little evidence of a 'civil war'.  What I do see is an unholy alliance of disgruntled Blairites, still unwilling to accept Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader, and the right making political capital out of some very ill judged and ill advised comments by a backbencher and a clapped out former London mayor who has always popular tabloid fodder thanks to his often bizarre utterances.  But let's look at some of the accusers: David Cameron, who, despite condemning alleged anti-semitism in Labour's ranks, seems to be perfectly happy with the bunch of racists, bigots and homophobes who fill the benches behind him in the Commons.  Then there's Labour MP John Mann - a Blairite who, let' not forget, had real problems grasping the nature of democracy during the Labour leadership campaign.  Certainly, he seemed very unwilling to accept the overwhelming democratic mandate the party's membership gave to Corbyn.  Moreover, regardless of the utter foolishness of  Ken Livingstone's recent comments about Hitler being a Zionist ('before he went mad'), Mann's thuggish public berating of him (in front of TV cameras who conveniently happened to be there - as if they'd been tipped off, perhaps?) was equally disgraceful and clearly calculated to embarrass his own party's leadership.

Anti-semitism is often used by the unscrupulous as a convenient allegation to smear opponents, (much as witchcraft was in the Middle Ages and peadophilia has been in more recent times).  It is an utterly heinous crime, invoking memories of the holocaust and concentration camps and, rightly, seen as being completely beyond the pale.  Consequently, it is an accusation difficult to defend against or recover from.  The problem nowadays is that it is frequently (and deliberately) confused with anti-Zionism, (which is somewhat different) or simply being critical of the Israeli government.  Personally, I'm critical of some of the Israeli government's policies with regard to the Palestinians and the occupied territories.  But that doesn't mean that I hate Jews, Israelis or even the Israeli state itself, which I believe has a right to exist and defend itself.   But I sometimes fear that we're getting to a stage where expressing such opinions might become next to impossible for fear of being labelled an anti-semite.  But it isn't just with regard to Israel and the Jewish people that there are attempts to restrict the expression of some opinions through allegations of racial or religious hatred.  We already have some groups telling us that we shouldn't make blanket condemnations of the activities of ISIS as it implies a belief that all Muslims are terrorists.  Utterly nonsensical, but incredibly, such a view has gained currency in some quarters.  You'll see a similar situation across a whole range of issues where various interest groups are attempting to narrow the debate to what they have decided is an acceptable range views - all dissenting opinions will be shouted down and those who dare to express them condemned as extremists.  Sadly, you can find these self-appointed thought censors on both the left and right.

But we've drifted away from the original issue of alleged anti-semitism in the Labour Party.  Is it a problem?  I have no doubt that you can find people holding such extreme views in the Labour Party, just as you undoubtedly could in any large organisation, but I'd be very surprised to find that it was widespread.  Of course, the left's traditional championing of the cause of the Palestinians has always laid them open to allegations of anti-Zionism and anti-semitism from their opponents.  But that isn't a problem confined to the Labour Party: traditionally, the UK political establishment has been perceived as more pro-Arab than pro-Israeli.  To return to the original point, I guess that what I want to say is that when allegations of this type start flying around the media, we always need to be careful to check who is making them and what their motivations might be.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Ballad of Tam Lin (1970)

The only film directed by actor Roddy McDowell, The Ballad of Tam Lin, (also released as The Devil's Widow and Tam Lin), is nowhere near the disaster that many commentators would have you believe.  Very much of its era, (it was filmed in 1969 and released in the UK the following year), with it's visual style, fixation on the 'jet set' and bright young beautiful people doing bright young beautiful things, the film comes over as achingly 'swinging'.  But as an example of British 'folk horror', it wears surprisingly well.  Not as dark and disturbing as The Wicker Man, perhaps, but nonetheless quite effective in places in evoking the darkness which underlies many archaic rituals and beliefs.  Tam Lin is, in essence, a contemporary retelling of a traditional Scottish folk tale of a knight enchanted by a faerie queen, who subsequently falls in love with a mortal girl and attempts to escape the faerie realm.

In the film, 'Tom Lynn' (Ian McShane) is the current paramour of Mrs Cazaret, a fabulously wealthy, but ageing, jet setter played by Ava Gardener.  She 'collects' young people, recruiting them into her retinue, which accompanies her from one venue to another, living a life of leisure and wealthy indolence.  After traveling to Cazaret's Scottish mansion, Lynn meets the local minister's daughter (Stephanie Beacham) and starts a relationship with her, drifting away from Cazaret's retinue in the process.  After the girl falls pregnant by him, Lynn - after stopping her from having a termination - leaves the retinue to live with her in a caravan.  Cazaret, however, is still determined to draw him back to her circle.  Dismissing all but one of her young followers, she replaces them with an altogether more sinister coven of acolytes, who are sent to kidnap Lynn.  The film climaxes with Lynn being fed hallucinogenic drugs by Cazaret before being hunted through the woods by the coven, (Cazaret believes that the ordeal will finally bring Lynn back to her).  During the chase Lynn hallucinates first that he is a bear, then that he is on fire as he stumbles into swamp, before wrestling with an imaginary giant rubber snake.

All of which follows the basic outline of the original legend, albeit substituting the magical elements with what McDowell clearly saw as modern day equivalents.  Most obviously, the world of the ultra rich becomes the faerie realm and magical potions are replaced by narcotics,  Wheras in the legend Tam Lin actually transforms into various beasts and experiences an ordeal by fire, in the film these occur only in his head.  On the whole, these substitutions actually work quite well.  The film's main problem - to contemporary eyes - is the dated visual style alluded to earlier.  Many sequences wouldn't have looked out of place in a 1970s TV commercial: lots of soft focus shots of beautiful young people running through fields, for instance, which feel as if they belong in a hairspray or shampoo advert.  The romance between McShane and Beacham is likewise presented in the style of a  glossy magazine shoot.  That said, one sequence, their first romantic encounter, is surprisingly effective, with the scene dissolving into a series of still shots, before returning to a normal visual flow, suggesting a breaking of Cazaret's 'spell' over Lynn.

Arguably, though, choosing to adopt the visual style of contemporary TV commercials is actually the point of the film.  After all, aren't they a form of enchantment?  Isn't advertising the modern witchcraft?  Offering us a whole fantasy lifestyle if we just give into temptation and buy the products they are peddling?  I well remember those Martini TV ads from my seventies childhood, which seemed to offer a glossy jet set existence - drinking Martini on sun drenched Mediterranean terraces with other beautiful people, toasting each other on luxury yachts in the Caribbean or even racing air boats in the Everglades - if you drank their product.  It all seemed hugely enticing to me as a child.  And perhaps McDowell is trying to show us what enchantment of this kind is really like: endlessly engaging in utterly meaningless games against a background of fabulously well appointed mansions.  An utterly empty existence which might look tempting from the outside but is, in reality, stultifying.  Cazaret's replacing of her 'hippy dippy' retinue with the more sinister coven effectively demonstrates the darker side to this 'enchanted' jet set existence, with mesmerised followers who will do anything, even kill, in order to maintain their empty, but luxurious and privileged, lifestyles.

A much maligned film - mainly by people who have never seen it, incidentally - much of Tam Lin's historically poor reputation apparently stems from the re-edited version released in the US by AIP under the title The Devil's Widow.  This was accompanied by a salacious marketing campaign the film could never live up (or down) to.  Seen today, the film (in its more-or-less it's original edit) comes over as an entertaining, if somewhat lightweight, piece of folk horror, with a suitably ethereal musical score and generally good performances from the cast, (especially Richard Wattis as Cazaret's creepy secretary).  The soft-focus style eventually gives way to full blooded horror at the climax, with the whole chase sequence presented in an effectively nightmarish and disturbing style, racking up some genuine tension.  Long overdue a proper critical reappraisal, The Ballad of Tam Lin is well worth seeking out.  


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Black Day for Boris

Sometimes you think to yourself that you are going to create something that is just bound to offend someone.  Preferably the sort of someone you generally hate.  So, conceding defeat on the issue of amusing captions for yesterday's giant ant pictures, I instead came up with the above image and tweeted it with the caption 'Brexit Campaign's Reasoned Reaction to President Obama's Intervention'.  Hell, I thought, that's bound to set the web on fire and upset some right wing reactionary bastards.  In fact, I thought, it's the sort of thing that might just get me banned from Twitter.  Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, as I can never quite work up the moral courage to actually close down my account as I know I probably should because social media so winds me up.  So, getting banned would make the decision for me, relieving me of the burden.

So, I eagerly checked my Twitter feed this morning to see the shit storm I'd kicked up - however, the very fact that my feed was still up was a bad sign in itself.  To my dismay, there was no reaction to the picture at all.  Not even a single retweet.  For fuck's sake, what do you have to do to offend people these days?     I mean, half the world seems to spend at least half of their time being offended by something or other these days.  But give 'em something which not only implies that Boris Johnson is an outright racist, but also makes a satirical side swipe as to the imperialist overtones of the whole Brexit campaign and they just ignore it.  OK, I know that I only have a handful of followers and the chances of any of them either seeing the picture in their feeds, let alone retweeting it were pretty slim, but damn it, they could at least pretend to be offended, just to humour me, couldn't they?

Clearly, I'm just not cut out for this social media business.  Besides, what ever happened to the good old days of the web when you'd just post something on your blog or site and people would find it and share it through forums and emails and stuff?  I miss those days when it required minimal effort on your part to disseminate something, the days when search engines actually returned results based on relevance.  Now we have to waste all this bloody time tweeting stuff or sharing it on Facebook, (generally to little or no effect).  God, I'm getting old, aren't I?

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Empire of the Ants

I really must get back to the pop culture stuff - I've been watching loads of old Westerns lately and they've really set me thinking about a possible posts concerning the way Wyatt Earp and the Gunfight at the OK Corral have been portrayed on screen, or an analysis of the three different versions of Law and Order and how their treatment of the various plot elements reflect the different eras they were produced in.  But right now, I'm not in the mood.  I'm feeling very listless at the moment, unable to settle to anything.  So I thought that I'd share some another picture from my week off with everyone.  In actual fact this is the picture I was thinking of sharing on Twitter with a suitably hilarious caption in the hope that it would get retweeted and start trending (or whatever those crazy kids call it).  So, here's the first one:

As you can see, it's a giant ant.  (In fact, it's the ant picture I previously mentioned as having texted to my friend).  To be precise, it's a giant wooden ant, its body carved from a log, situated in some woods not far from me (they have all sorts of stuff like this there).  I've always been fascinated by giant ants.  I put it down to having seen Them! at an early age. The question is, however, what would be a suitably 'whacky'  caption for all those people out on social media?  I could make some reference to my previous problems with household ant infestations - maybe something about needing a bigger can of insecticide spray.  Or something about the ants retaliating.  The problem with that approach, though, is that just about nobody else on Twitter would get the reference as they wouldn't ever had read my posts here about my ant problems. 

The more obvious thing would to be caption it with something along the lines of 'I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords', thereby getting in a 'Simpsons' reference which most people on Twitter would understand.   Well, while we're all pondering which caption would be best, let's look at that ant from another angle:

Big, isn't it?


Saturday, April 23, 2016

An Angry Apology

I really feel that I should apologise for yesterday's post.  I was being petulant over something utterly trivial.  My only excuse is that I was feeling frustrated over other issues and, instead of addressing those issues, I took my frustrations out on easier targets.  So what if people haven't been getting back to me this week?  They've got lives just like me and it is unreasonable of me to expect them to drop everything just because I've got a week off from my job.  In my defence, part of my irritation was fueled by the events of recent weeks, when I had people contacting me out of the blue, expecting me to come up with all sorts of answers for them, making vague promises to meet up, then vanishing into silence again - especially when I then try to contact them.  I wouldn't mind,  but the individuals in question generally have even fewer commitments and responsibilities than me, not even working full-time, as I do.  Moreover, as I did think to point out yesterday, my friend who was on the receiving end of the giant ant picture (don't ask) was always exempted from my generalised whining: to be honest, I never take it for granted I'll get timely responses from her: she really does have more important things to deal with than me, but remains a much valued friend.

As for the things which were really frustrating me - one was simply lack of sleep.  After a late night, I'd been forced to get up early on Friday morning to give access to some guys from the electricity company for them to do some rewiring of the mains supply.  Consequently, I had to stand around for an hour with a cold wind blowing in through the open front door.  Not a great start to the day.  But that was a relatively minor irritation compared to what was to come.  I'd been involved in another of those bogus copyright disputes on You Tube, where some 'rights management' company tries to claim a piece of public domain music is actually something by one of their 'artists' and tries to monetise your video. In the past, I've won every one of these disputes.  This time, however, despite citing not only the real composer (who I actually know quite well) but also the public domain sites where the track is available, adding that the video in question was over five years old and the music even older, so if anyone was plagiarising anyone else, it was their 'artist', my counter claim was rejected.  Whilst You Tube/Google allegedly allow you to appeal this, they also make all sorts of threats against your account if you have the audacity to do this and fail.  Moreover, you can only follow this path if you 'verify' your account which, bizarrely, requires you giving them your phone number.  Good to see Google taking fraudulent copyright claims so seriously that they use them primarily as attempt to harvest further personal data from their customers.  I have a Gmail account which is used as a login for my You Tube account, why do they require further 'verification' of who I am?

Anyway, as I'm unwilling to give out my private phone number to a tax-evading multi-national for no good reason and bearing in mind that the fact that I can prove the track I used is in the public domain wasn't sufficient in the first instance, I really don't see the point in pursuing the issue.  Instead, I've made the video in question private, so that nobody but me can access it, (thereby rendering their attempts to monetise it futile - it's only ever been viewed twelve times in five years as it is), and I'm now in the process of uploading all my videos to Vimeo.  Once I've completed that exercise, I'll delete them all from You Tube and close my account.  I use You Tube to host my home movies, not to be bullied and harassed (with the collusion of You Tube itself ) by copyright sharks making fraudulent claims.  Google clearly doesn't give a shit that this is happening, so as far as I'm concerned the can go fuck themselves.  I know that they will give even less of a shit that I'm abandoning their service, but if enough people follow my example, then maybe they'll realise how disgraceful it is that they expose their customers to these fraudsters.  And for that, I'm certainly not apologising.


Friday, April 22, 2016

Social Pariah?

(An important qualification regarding the following post: it obviously doesn't apply to my friend I sent the ant picture to - you know who I mean.  Moreover, the fact that I've only just realised that I've had my phone switched off for most of today could be a factor in my apparent social isolation).

Have I become a social pariah?  I only ask as, being off work for a week, I tried contacting various friends and acquaintances to see if they were around - I haven't receive a single response.  It's as if my number has been blocked by nearly everyone I know.  It isn't just texts to friends and acquaintances which have been ignored - it's been the same story with e-mails to various people I sometimes have dealings with online: totally ignored.  I'm really beginning to develop a complex about this.  Hell, I know I'm not the most popular person in the world at the best of times - and frankly I don't care - but these are people I generally get along with!  I've been left racking my brains to try and figure out if I've done, said or written anything which might have offended them, either individually or collectively - and I've come up with a blank.

I'm well aware that I'm not always particularly good at keeping in touch with people, so a text or e-mail out of the blue from me might be met with a certain degree of scepticism in some quarters, with recipients perhaps assuming that I'm after some kind of favour, but that really isn't the case.  In any case, it would be nice to have my existence acknowledged, even if it is just to tell me to 'bugger off'.  I'm also well aware that many people I know have far more complicated and busier lives than me, having to juggle multiple responsibilities and commitments, both at home and at work. But, again, it would still be nice simply to be acknowledged by them.  I know that I'm sounding all whiny and sulky, but this is an issue which has marred an otherwise great week off of work.  If it had just been one person, I wouldn't have thought anything of it, but it's the fact that it has been across the board which has left me feeling like a social leper.  That said, I still seem to be on good terms with the people of interact with socially on a personal basis, so clearly I haven't become totally obnoxious overnight.  Anyway, I'm not singling anyone out and if you read this and you are one of those people who didn't respond to one of my recent attempts at communication, it's OK.  I'm sure that you had perfectly good reasons for not doing so and I'm not trying to shame you into responding, I'm just feeling sorry for myself right now and this is as good a way as any of getting it out of my system!


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Star Whackers?

So, another one bites the dust.  Well, two actually, as Victoria Wood died yesterday and Prince turned up his toes today.  By my mother's reckoning, of course, another celebrity death must be imminent in order to fulfill her observation that 'they always go in threes'.  But so far this year, it's been far more than three - it feels like there's been a celebrity holocaust.  But is there something more sinister behind this sudden increase in celebrity mortality?  Are all these deaths down to illness, accidents and natural causes?  Was crazy man Randy Quaid right - are there professional 'star whackers' out there?  If you recall, some years ago Quaid and his wife used the 'star whacker' allegations as a defence for fleeing to Canada after arrest warrants were issued against them for, as I recall, an unpaid hotel bill in, I think, Texas.  Their claim was that stars were being 'whacked' in fake accidents and illnesses so that shadowy Hollywood movers and shakers could get their hands on their extortionate insurance pay outs.

So, are some shady agents currently enjoying an insurance wind fall?  Perhaps their investments haven't been going well, so they've had to 'cash in' some of their celebrity investments.  Maybe there's something even more sinister going on, though.  What if it isn't about money at all?  What if this is some kind of cull?  Perhaps this year's wave of celebrity deaths is actually the result of some kind of secret moral fundamentalist group trying to purge popular culture of 'unsuitable role models'?  I mean, just look at some of the casualties:  Lemmy from Motorhead, David Bowie and now Prince.  All of them have courted controversy over the years, frequently outraging the moralists.  I'm sure that many concerned parents out there were dismayed to find their sons' putting up posters of cross-dressing Bowie over the years, or hard drinking, hard smoking and hard swearing Lemmy, for that matter.  OK, I know what you are thinking - how could Victoria Wood ever have been seen as an unsuitable role model?  Obviously, she incurred the secret group's wrath by encouraging women to be emancipated and independent, telling them that they were the equal of men.  Besides, there's bound to be some collateral damage in a large scale operation like this celebrity cull.  Plus, they have to do in a few celebs who don't fit the profile, so as to throw everyone off the scent.  Believe me, this conspiracy isn't over yet - brace yourselves for many more celebrity deaths over the next few months!

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Rural Ramblings

In between attending to various DIY projects this week, I've also managed to find time to get out and enjoy the relatively good weather.  Judging by the amount of bluebells in evidence, Spring has most definitely sprung. Anyway, as I really can't be arsed to write a proper post toady, I thought that I'd subject my faithful reader(s) to the equivalent of a slideshow of holiday pictures.  So, let's start with a look at some of those bluebells:

These were in a wooded coppice, or was it a spinney?  Does anyone know what the difference is?  Actually, it might have been a full fledged copse for all I know.  Then again, the trees covered quite a large area, so they might even count as a wood, but definitely not a forest.  Prominent in this wooded area (I think that's probably the safest term to use), is an area of water.  I hesitate to call it a pool or a pond, as it is really just a natural hollow which fills up with water in the rainy season.  It is often dry during the Summer.  But today, it wasn't:

There were a couple of new additions to the bank of the  'area of water'  - I say 'new', but they might have been there for years, I only noticed them today - in the form of two benches carved from large logs:

This one features a carved squirrel and, too small to see in the photo, a carved mouse on the other leaf seat.  The other bench features a duck, a frog and an owl:

Finally, leaving the woodland, I found myself facing the vista of a solar panel farm on the opposite slope, (the panels don't show up as well as I'd hoped on the photo, but trust me, the dark stuff on the far slope are solar panels).  These are becoming an increasingly common sight locally and are undoubtedly the face of the future.  They seem to attract less hostility than wind turbines, despite taking up more space.

Despite the sunshine and clear skies, the skeletal state of the trees gives away the fact that we're still only in Spring and that Summer is some way off yet.  There are more pictures, but I'm going to take pity on everyone and save them for another day.