About Joyce Hopewell

Writer, reader, dancer, singer, teacher, nature lover, astrologer, Senior Research Associate in the field of Child Development and Human Relations (aka grandmother).

Razor shells

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There were more razor shells than I’ve ever seen together in one place on the beach at Rhyl in North Wales. This is a small sample of the banks and piles of them created by the tides.

If they weren’t en masse like these, they were spread out more thinly, with the firm sand showing through. The walk on the beach was at times quite a noisy one, my feet making satisfying sounds as I crunched on them.

There were plenty of other shells mixed in – mostly cockle shells and the odd mussel shell. Just think – living creatures once inhabited every single one of them. There were countless thousands.

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In the land of height barriers

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We went into North Wales in our motorvan one day last week when the sun shone and temps got up to an unseasonable-for-February 16 or 17c.  We were aiming for a walk on a beach, but as we’d never been to the town of Holywell – home of St. Winefride’s well and the pilgrimage shrine to this early martyr – we stopped there first. We were very disappointed.

Signs saying that Holywell is The Lourdes of Wales  had greeted us and  we wanted to see the holy well, but access is nigh on impossible if you’re in a motorvan. There’s a small car park (with maybe 12 max parking slots) opposite the church & well, but it has a height barrier. Height barriers are the bane of the motorhomer’s life – it’s impossible to get in and they are usually erected to keep out travellers.

There was nowhere else to park. We went back into the town, found another very small car park we could get into (no height barrier), decided not to walk along the busy major through road to the church and explored the town instead. Disappointing, dead and depressing. Shut up shops, cheapo pound shops, 2 betting shops, a couple of cafes. It was dreary, crummy, downtrodden. The people didn’t too happy either. How sad. Holywell, according to info boards in the main street, appears to originally have been a thriving market town. Not any more.

Surprised that a town calling itself the Lourdes of Wales hadn’t provided better parking for the visitors it hoped to attract, we went on to find the nearby Greenfield Valley Heritage Park which claims to be worth a visit. It boasts 5 ponds, water birds, wooded walks etc. Guess what? More height barriers.

We drove on, aiming for the Point of Ayr RSPB reserve, passing more car parks with height barriers along the way. Turning off towards Point of Ayr we were soon engulfed in a horrible pong. A farmer was muck spreading in an adjacent field and it wasn’t nice. We carried on a bit and as the pong receded,  another nastier, more evil smell emerged. It was from the chemical works at Point of Ayr. No way were we going to go anywhere near that, it was vile.

Feeling sorry for any birds who were breathing it in we turned round and headed towards Prestatyn. Looking for somewhere to park near the beach, or with a sea view, we were foiled yet again by another series of height barriers on car parks, and decided that this neck of North Wales must have had some pretty bad experiences with travellers taking over their car parks to have gone so heavily down the height barrier route.

We pressed on, still looking for somewhere to stop and have lunch, preferably with a sea view. Rhyl, not the most enticing of seaside towns, loomed close by, but we hit the jackpot without having to go into the town. On the outskirts there was a stretch of seafront prom, with a large grass verge, and unrestricted parking. So we had lunch in our van, in the sun, overlooking the beach and sea and then took our dog for a very long walk on the sands, enjoying distant views of the Snowdonia mountains.

Baftas, Brexit and Insects

I awake this morning to the news headlines on the radio. First up is the Baftas – hot news at the moment as The Favourite has scooped an armful of awards, with Olivia Colman getting the Best Actress accolade. She was briliant, as were her supporting female leads; the film was odd and slightly boring (my view) and seemed filled with characters who were distinctly nasty to each other. I far preferred Stan and Ollie and Bohemian Rhapsody. But then I’m a push over for films with a spot of happiness, some poignant sadness and with music in them.

The news moves on to Brexit; in third place comes a mention of the alarming lack of insects, news of which has just broken.

Back to Brexit – that ongoing saga of unbelievable self-harm which parliament, government, the Prime Minister and some of the country seems to be willingly – almost eagerly? – putting itself through in the name of the “will of the people”. What tosh. It’s the most dangerous emergency the UK has faced sine WW2.

Boris Johnson is being interviewed and he’s using the quiet, well-modulated voice he’s no doubt been schooled in using, in an attempt to be taken seriously as he spouts something or other I may or may not have heard before. I’ve had enough of this man and the porkies he peddled during the referendum campaign so I turn off the radio.

I don’t need to hear anymore. The item on Insects is given little prominence and comes low down on the list. In fact, it’s something which is infinitely more important, scary and of long term importance and significance than a no-deal Brexit.

There’s a global decline of insects. A recent scientific review of insect numbers reports that 40% of species are undergoing dramatic rates of decline. We can’t do without them, whether we like them or not. We need them for pollination; they ensure that 75% of crops in the world are pollinated. And we need food.

Insects provide food for birds, bats and small mammals. They are good for the soil and they keep the number of pests (like flies) down. Loss of habitat and use of fertilisers and pesticides are to blame, along with climate breakdown. Most insect decline comes from Europe and North America.

So what can we do?

1) Make your garden or patch more insect friendly. Plant to attract insects – encourage the bees and butterflies. Don’t use plastic grass (horrible dead stuff – and it’s plastic too). Leave a wild patch on your lawn for the insects. It doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be there.

2) Don’t use pesticides. At all. There are other ways. One of them is leaving things be as much as you can. The worst that can happen is that some plants will be eaten by caterpillars….but then you’ll have the butterflies and moths too.

3) Buy organic or grow some of your own fruit and veg.

Black and white photography

Bw diner Tucumcari

Traditional diner, Tucumcari, New Mexico

I recently watched a TV programme about Don McCullin, veteran photojournalist, whose iconic black and white photography had me looking at some of my own humble archive shots.

Famed for his war photography and images of urban strife, McCullin took viewers on a tour of modern day Britain as he revisted and photographed places he’d been to many years before. Armed with old-fashioned but stalwart cameras which have seen much action, he was equally comfortable wandering around in towns, talking to people, asking them if he could photgraph them and taking candid shots, as he was joining a local hunt in the countryside to get some excellent shots (although I was glad to hear he didn’t think much of fox hunting).

All his photographs are in black and white – the detail is superb. Viewers were taken, at the end of the day, into his dark room. He develops in the “old fashioned” way; no digital cameras for him. At 83, he’s still working…or should that be doing what he loves doing?

Every now and then I try my hand at some candid or street photography. In this shot the customer in the diner had laid his stetson on the seat beside him, and I liked the row of chairs lined up against the counter. But I didn’t ask if I could take his photo as I didn’t want him to pose. I had my lunch, left the diner and he was none the wiser.  But I’m glad he was there for my picture.

Bw old timer in diner

A lipogram

B is at our door, smiling and happy. A bullfinch was in a bush! Its front was bright pink. 

For B, it’s a first sighting of this bird and it brings a buzz of drama to a humdrum Friday walk back from junior school.

It’s put on B’s list of unfamiliar birds caught sight of last month, joining a buzzard from six days ago. B is proud and glows with joy.

black gray and orange bird

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Writing a lipogram, as I’ve done here, is writing something but leaving out a letter. It’s a suggested exercise in a *creative writing book I have, and its purpose is to challenge the writer by extracting them from a rut.

I can guarantee that it certainly was a challenge and it took a lot longer than expected to write those first few lines without using a specific letter. Had I written it without this restraint/challenge, I’d have been able to dash it off far faster. As it was I had to choose my words carefully and aim to make sense. Even so, it’s stilted and doesn’t flow too well – but it is a true story as everything I’ve written about happened about an hour ago.

Have you spotted which letter it was?!

*Back to Creative Writing School by Bridget Whelan

Snowy avian activity

Snow. Quietness reigns. Manchester airport is closed. Choir rehearsal is cancelled because of bad weather. A bit of a disappointment as it’s Queen week (“come along in moustaches and curly wigs for a bit of fun to rehearse Don’t Stop Me Now“). My Freddie Merury outfit lies dormant. Out come the binoculars and camera.

We don’t often get much snow here so it’s a bit of an event. I hear on the weather forecast that the Cheshire Gap and North Wales are affected. The garden, nearby woods and field look like fairyland. The dog – now one year old – explores his whitened environment and with snowy muzzle, eventually comes back into the house to find the nearest radiator.

Meanwhile I’m scanning higher levels, following the avian antics of a gang of goldfinches as they fly from treetops to garden feeders. A lone buzzard suddenly swoops down on to the field, scattering snow from the branch it’s perched on; I wonder what small mammal it’s spotted. A shy female bullfinch lurks in the hedge then takes off the very second I reach for my camera. Likewise the three siskins who pause together on the topmost branches of the bare apple tree. I wish for an extra pair of hands so I can hold binoculars and camera at the same time.

The same happens when I see a reed bunting perched on a snow-laden conifer in next door’s garden. But the pair of magpies on a distant treetop stay still, only coming to visit after some food has been put out by husband, clearing paths and making sure there’s fresh, unfrozen water in the bird bath.

The blackbirds are busy at ground level, pigeons descend from their treetop roosts to see what’s going on, the nuthatch commandeers one feeder and the blue, great and coal tits get active on the other. The robin, ever-present, puts in an appearance. The garden looks like a belated Christmas card.