Friday, 20 March 2015

The Eclipse of March 20th, and Other Photos That Day...and NO FISH!

Firstly let me apologise for not yet having written the rest of the posts about the mahseer fishing trip. This is not JUST due to laziness on my part but also because some things relating to the trip are still going on in the background, which make it inadvisable for me to post just for the moment. Since my return I have caught the odd trout, grayling and bream, but nothing really worth writing about has happened, so I will mention them no more.  So today is all about a few photographs, with minimal commentary.  None of the shots are great, merely reminders of the day.

Friday the 20th of March started very early in the morning as usual.   I didn't.  I waited until it was nearly time for the eclipse to start, and then went out into the cold onto a small balcony on the top of the bay window of the house a little after eight o'clock.   It was of course cloudy, and I was expecting very little would be there to be seen.  The last time I remember seeing a solar eclipse, also a partial, was back in 1959, I was at school at the time, and no one warned us against looking at the sun.   I did, and was probably lucky to have suffered no eye damage.   Friday's eclipse was, or so I read,  about 93% coverage, as viewed from Manchester.  And it actually took quite a long time to progress.  From first contact to the end was well over two hours with the maximum being at 9.32 A.M.   Despite the cloud I did manage to take quite a few photos, and although the clouds were never completely absent, I actually think that they give additional interest to the pictures with an almost rainbow-like colour effect infusing into the clouds.
Neither of these pictures was taken at maximum coverage of the sun, and I admit to having been disappointed that the world did not turn very noticeably darker at any time during the event.  The birds did not exhibit changes in behaviour, and the traffic did not stop in panic.  It was just quite cold up there and away from the central heating.  Nice to see it though and it could well be my last view of one, unless I live much longer than anyone wants me to.  Myself excluded of course.

Having got the camera up and running, and having otherwise used the best part of the fishing day, I ventured out to the river, camera in hand, rods in utility room.  I had decided to have another go at photographing the dippers, and was soon sitting precariously on the river bank, overlooking a spot where I knew the dippers were often to be seen.  Today they weren't, but after a while a pair of grey wagtails arrived on the far bank.   They did what grey wagtails always do, pottering up and down the edge of the stream, waggling their tails like mad.  All the while the scent of the newly sprouting wild garlic filled the air about me, probably because I crushed a fair few leaves as I worked my way near to the river's edge. No white flowers yet though.
Grey Wagtail
The dippers though did not appear and so I drifted downstream a short way, and caught sight of a pair of goosanders through the trees.  They were, as usual, very shy birds, but allowed me a couple of pictures as they patrolled up and down a short stretch of river.  They dived for fish several times, but to date I have never seen a goosander catch anything at all.   But maybe they are secret eaters, swallowing their prey beneath the surface and out of my sight?
Female Goosander

Male Goosander


 Moving further downstream I came to this pretty little spot, and one of the dippers was suddenly visible on the far bank.  



I clambered down again to the edge, not as close as I would have liked to get to the bird, but again, I managed a couple of  shots at distance.            I waited for a long time, hoping for him, 

or perhaps her, to enter the stream, but the bird remained a strict landlubber.  

I then decided to see how well the video function on the camera worked, and so took a short clip.  But still the uncooperative little creature would not dip into the water.  And then I found that, once placed into the blog, the video would not play.  I am still working on that problem. The video may appear later.

A couple of mallards completed the river's bird collection.  

En- route back home I stopped by the lake, one I fish a few times in Spring.   It is still very bare, few signs of new growth either from the trees or the water plants. Deep water, so it warms up slowly. But a pair of grebes were keeping each other  close company, so nesting, mating and chicks are getting near to being on the week's menu.  The male swan, the cob, has already started his own duties: chasing away any Canada goose or mallard that comes near,  with near meaning "anywhere on the lake".  It all seems a bit pointless, as, whenever the cob gets near, the chased bird just takes off, and flies a few yards further away. Silly swan, it has no chance at all of actually catching one of the trespassers.   I wonder if the displayed aggression is in any way related to that phrase "getting a cob on"? 

Annoyed Swan

Threatening Swan

 On returning home a few more species were visible around the feeders in the garden, goldfinch, greenfinch,  bullfinch, several tit species, dunnocks, woodpigeon and robins visiting in their turn. The bullfinches are very faithful to each other.  I never see the female without the brilliantly coloured male being in fairly close attendance, regardless of the time of year.  A new addition, not seen in the garden for well over a year was a lone blackcap. It may have been taking lessons from the swan, in that it was very aggressively chasing any and all small birds away from the feeders. 



Stroppy Female Blackcap
None was allowed to remain.  But what was most surprising is that this bird was a female: grey with a brown cap: perhaps a chestnut would be a better term for it than a blackcap.  It is alone, no male seems to be resident nearby.  But so much aggression must be unusual in the female of almost any species.

Goldfinch

Greenfinch
Bullfinch

Woodpigeon with that Typical Staring Eye.

...and of Course  a Robin, looking Perky and Intelligent as Ever.
Nina went to clear out one of our nestboxes a few days ago, and was surprised, as she put her hand into the box, it touched feathers, and not old nest material.  The robin that had been sitting there flew out, surprising her, such that she nearly fell into the pond. The robin returned to the nestbox a few minutes later, and so we must expect some young robins fairly soon. I myself went to look at a second nest box, also open fronted, robin style, and as I neared it, a woodmouse ran out.   I am sure he will return too.

The crocus planted with the aid of the Black and Decker have done well, and there are hundreds of flowers now.  sadly not a single white crocus amongst them.  

I should have retained the packets, as I am sure they pictured white ones.  Even the yellow are few and far between, purple prevailing.  



The evening arrived and to complement the eclipse of the morning, the moon and Venus were both present in the evening. By over exposing slightly I was able to include the full disc of the moon lit rather poorly, whilst the crescent remained bright. Almost like a second eclipse.


And finally, back to the warmth of a good old traditional coal fire.  No fishing, but quite a good day.

 



Thursday, 12 March 2015

Mahseer Mayhem, The Disaster Movie, The Sequel.

Star Date DEC.18.2014

I love that word disaster, despite my overly frequent involvement with such events.  That TV programme "Strictly Come Dancing" has been on the TV of late  and one of the judges frequently pronounced the word as dis-ARSE-ter.  Brilliant.   Good word that too, far better than the American "ass".  Leads to some great expressions in English:   "Can't be arsed", or the super-descriptive "Arse over tit", which is what happened to me climbing up a slippery river bank last week.  Steep river banks, in heavy rain quickly become imparseable. As do the comments I may have made at the time. I hope you pronounced that word correctly.


One of the most famous angling books about India, if not the most famous, is called "Circumventing the Mahseer" by Major A. St, J, Macdonald.  Published at about the end of British involvement in India, 1948, when the country went independent.  A fascinating book of which I read a part during my last stay in India.   I loved the way the book was written, very much an old fashioned style of speaking and writing English, very prim and proper. Not an arse to be seen in it anywhere. The book is now well out of print, and near unobtainable, without spending enough money to pay the interest of several months involvement with the Wonga pay day loans company, or one small third world country's national debt.  There are only two copies of the book resident in UK libraries, the nearest being in London. After much searching, I found one copy on line, in India, but the company refuses to post it to the UK.


"Circumventing" meant, in those days, the same as "outwitting" does today, a word entirely appropriate in this text: the sequel to "Mahseer Mayhem, the Disaster Movie", which is available elsewhere in this blog at the bargain price of just £21.95 plus VAT.


 I knew someone at work whose name was Singin,  pronounced as in "sin" and "gin", or so I thought.  Knew him a couple of years before discovering that it was written as "St. John" .    Pretty posh being called after a Saint I thought. He wasn't a Major though, unlike Macdonald.  Years later, I discovered my wife's brother is called Angel.  I thought that was just an oddball nickname.  It wasn't a nickname, but it was a shortened form of Archangel.  Now there is an over-dramatic first name for a bloke.   But when I saw his middle name it would have been quite easy to suspend all belief.  A clue:  his middle name beings with a "G".  No, it really does!   Couple that with a surname "Cepillo" that in Spanish translates into "toothbrush", and you begin to think that my wife's relatives are all off another planet.   Her having an older sister "Virginia Mary Toothbrush" is additionally weird, even for a Catholic.  So calling her daughter "Mary Jayne" seemed quite sensible, until I discovered that her husband was in the drugs squad.  But I diverge...or perhaps I digress.


And so there will now be a short pause whilst you go and find some suitable disaster film opening music. Come back when you have played it.  Choose your own music, something eerie, a little scary maybe. Not the music from "Jaws" please.   Wholly inappropriate, for that crocodile from last year may still be there. Dundee music?  Um,  yes, OK then, if you must.


In the opening sequence, as the cinema curtains draw open  you see myself, JayZS, the hero, approaching the Indian Visa Office in Manchester for the first time. Payment for the Mahseer trip to India has been made, and I have the newly printed application form in my grubby mitt. I have messed up the form and need advice on how to recover it. But, like last year,  Circumventing the Visa Application Process is becoming a good game and I don't even get past the security guard today.   He tells me, pleasantly enough, that if I have messed up the form...and I have, that I, and they, can no longer retrieve it on line.   The day before, having paused at the last moment, just before noting down those essential reference numbers, (three of them, not just one), I had gone to answer the doorbell.   Whilst chatting with the postman on the doorstep my wife decided to open up her Facebook for a short, three hour gossip, and my reference numbers, unrecorded, went permanently off screen as a result.  The guard tells me, as if to a naughty schoolboy: "Go back home and do it all again."






The form last year was pretty horrendous, and it has been much expanded this year, so as to complicate the process yet more. Change was inevitable. There were rumours that some applicants had been getting it right first time.  


No matter, two days later sees me back in the visa queue, necessary documents in hand.  Appointment booked, and I have also paid over seven quid for a special delivery packet for the return of my passport. That seven quid took the whole visa process cost to over a hundred quid.  And, I don't really like sending my passport off to a foreign embassy.  Isn't that classed as being in another country? Would you post your passport to Iran, or Syria?  An Indian Tourist Visa costs more than a UK passport!   93 quid no less. Oh and 50 pence.


I had expected some trouble with their insistence that I provide a referee in India. I don't know anyone in India.  A billion people in the country and I don't know a single one of them. Not one name I could put on the visa form.  But apparently knowing the hotel by name is sufficient.  Even if I shall only be using it for one night, my referee, is now Mr. Hotel Chancery, of Lavelle Road, Bangalore. Mensa membership is of no use when completing a Visa application form.   Mistakes are compulsory. And I have forgotten to enter my mother's surname on the form. Damn! And worse, going to India for two weeks, I have assumed that a month long visa will be ample. Wrong!    It would have been, but they date visas from the date of issue, not the date of the visit.  So my visa would have expired before I got there.  Am I able to add my mother's surname, and change the one month on the form to three months?  NOPE.  Am I able to modify it in their system and reprint? NOPE.  Get thee out of here, Banished. Get on the bus back home, redo and re-print it all, Get the printer plugged in again, back up and running, and make another appointment.  That is twice I have been circumvented so far  And only 8 weeks to get it right now remain.



You might note that the Visa website offers a "Tourist Visa on Arrival" feature.  What an excellent idea, thought I.   Except that, in the small print, the UK is not amongst the list of acceptable countries. Were I from Finland, Brazil, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Djibuti, or Vanuatu or even the Ukraine: then arrival Visas would be fine.   Did we annoy India so much during the British Raj?  Are we not to be trusted?   Anyway I thought a Djibouti was some sort of small  African creature with legs...or perhaps I was thinking about an aardvark? I bet that aardvarks are entitled to get tourist visas on arrival. Unless they are British aardvarks I suppose.


There will now be another short break whilst the ice cream lady passes amongst you along and down the aisles. No, you cannot have popcorn, I cannot stand the smell.


Meanwhile I catch the bus back home.  I pick up the Metro, a free local paper at the front of the bus, and begin to do the crossword whilst seated on the back seat next to that blonde. She is probably very impressed at how quickly I fill the clues in.  (The Metro had been available on the bus into Manchester this morning as well). Hence this afternoon I have nearly finished it when the bus engine is suddenly switched off.  I ignore it, concentrating instead on 14 across... until the driver throws me off.   And no, I have not forgotten to get off at my own  stop. I am not that daft.. not quite.  The bus has terminated several stops short of my home.  I have not realized that some of the buses, all with exactly the same number on the front, only go part way. There are, it would seem, four different versions of this bus route, and I have clambered onto the only one that pulls up short of my house.   As I walk to the next stop the winds increase and the rain comes pelting down again.  More floodwater. So no grayling fishing to provide me with a quantum of solace tomorrow.



My next Visa appointment is on Monday, after another session spent, producing another printed application form.   I have already paid online, so am now hoping that my payment can be easily transferred to my new application.  Worrying though, given the stickler for red tape approach so far.  So I go towards the bus stop outside the house, not only worrying but grumbling.   It has long been a source of annoyance that my "free" bus pass does not start to work until 09.30.  What use is that for an angler?  And today, the only visa appointment that remained was 09:15.  So it is going to cost me a full adult fare.  Disgraceful.  But I will sit downstairs.   As an experiment I tried the upper deck of the bus last week.   Nice good view from the front seat, see all sort of strange "local wildlife" that you don't normally see when driving.   Why do people rush upstairs?   I found the damn bus wobbles about dreadfully if you are on the upper deck,  A far more uncomfortable journey than if I sit downstairs.  And I didn't see too much anyway because the rain was pelting down, masking the window.
.......
Two pounds sixty pence!   For a single bus fare into Manchester.  I am now even more annoyed that my bus pass stays asleep until 09:30.  How can that be justified?  I feel as if I have just paid, entirely by myself, for enough diesel to power the complete Metro bus fleet until well past lunchtime.  But I suppose it gets me to the visa office in time, if £2-60 poorer.    I am 5th in the visa queue. Two before me soon have their applications rejected for trivialities.   One other has to re-do his photographs in the pay booth so thoughtfully provided in the building.  I am happy, because on Friday I asked specifically whether my photo was acceptable, and was informed that it was. Two ladies are asked whether they have already paid online, Both have, their applications go through and it is my turn.


  The young lady clerk was ticking all the answers on my form: all looking good, although I was still nervous.  She suddenly decided that my photograph was unsuitable.   Have my looks changed so much since Friday? Have I grown a third eye?  No, but she has noticed a slight reflection in my glasses.  I am directed to the photo booth, where it costs me £10 to take a new set of photos.  I remove my glasses first. Reflect on that!  £10?  I am fairly sure it was even more than that last year.  But to check I would have to re-read the post from last year, and someone said it would cost me £21.95 plus VAT to re- read  the "Mahseer Mayhem" post.



The girl then said it would be £93-50 for the visa.  I quickly flash the receipt for the on-line payment I made on Thursday last week.  No Problem!    Wrong!   Problem.    Big Problem.
"But the guy on Friday said that I could re-use this payment when I re-applied" I said, as indignantly as I felt I could to one such as her.
"All those before me, at the other counters, were asked whether they had already paid on line."
The girl confided that she was just a temporary draftee doing the visa application due to shortage of staff, and she did not fully understand the rules.  Therefore she did not ask but assumed I had not paid.   The computer system has gobbled her garbled input, and will not spit it back out.  So, unlike those lucky sods before me, I get a trainee, whose prettiness does not fully compensate for her mistake.  I am given the options of
     1) Going home and re-applying once more, creating a fresh form, or
   2) Paying a second time and asking for a refund, which would have to be done via customer services using email.
 I give in and pay up.  The visa application is at least now live and in process.  I'll pluck up courage,  cross my fingers, and email customer services tomorrow.


This is, so far, even more of a dis-arse-ter than last year.   What do the airports and India have in store for me in February?  And then, if I finally do get into the country, am I going to be trampled by an elephant, whilst breathing my last following simultaneous cobra and crocodile attacks, and what then remains of me,  eaten by a tiger? I just know it. If not that, then worse: the food will somehow disagree with me.  Should I have listened to the wife last year, and gone down the local canal instead?
........
Star Date DEC.30.2014    Latest Visa news:  all has progressed very well and indeed with speed.   I now have my visa, The Indian High Commission in Birmingham was actually at work on my application on Christmas Day!   At 3pm on the 25th they sent me a text to say that they were dealing with it.  Christmas Day!! Wow!
And...just let me check....and....yes!!.....The refund came through yesterday.
............



 Part two will be produced as soon as I can be arsed about it.




P.S.   Just found a copy of "Circumventing the Mahseer" in the USA, and at an excellent price.  E.T.A. the day after I leave for India.