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since 21/09/2009


Wwt Arundel Wetland Centre, Arundel 01/07/2010

Arundel - secret sanctuary hidden in the reeds

Wwt Arundel Wetland Centre, Arundel A brief glance at my profile will reveal that I study zoology, and with my course comes the prerequisite of loving all things fluffy, flapping, scaly, slithering and swimming. It was this unusual condition that first led me to discover the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and subsequently their wonderful reserve at Arundel. Situated in West Sussex, WWT Arundel is one of nine Wildfowl and Wetland Trusts reserves dotted up and down the country. WWT was founded in 1946 by Sir Peter Scott, and states its aim as 'to save wetlands and their wildlife and raise awareness of the issues that threaten their survival'. At this relatively small, relatively quiet reserve, they have achieved this aim admirably. The Visitor Centre On arriving in Arundel, the first thing a visitor encounters is the main Visitor Centre. Here is where you pay your dues (£8.95 for adults, £7.50 for concessions including students, £4.50 for 4 to 16 year olds. Family tickets also available for £23.95, while children under four and helpers of disabled people go free) and those with children or a noisy inner child (me!) can fork out a few coins for a bag of grain. Grain prices vary, but it is never more than a pound, and definitely worth buying. The visitor centre also contains the gift shop, bird sightings board, toilets and restaurant. The Restaurant The Water's Edge restaurant deserves a special mention because it shows how good an attraction's restaurant can be when done right. It serves a range of hot main ...

Inca Trail - Peru 19/10/2009

An Inca Trail through the heart of Inca Peru

Inca Trail - Peru Two summers ago I was lucky enough to visit the wonderful country of Peru, and to walk the famous Inca Trail to the lost Andean city of Machu Picchu. Yesterday, while procrastinating writing an essay, I chanced upon some pictures of Peru and reminded of this magical experience: and I hope that this review might be useful to anyone considering their own visit. What? The kingdom of the Incas, one of the great ancient kingdoms of South America, sprawled over a vast part of that continent between 1200 and the mid 1400s. Like any large country, infrastructure and communication were crucial for the Inca rulers in maintaining control – a problem exacerbated by the mountainous nature of much of the Inca terrain. To solve this problem, the Incas built a huge network of trails, over which chasquis (messengers) would carry information or goods. These chains of chasquis could cover incredible distances – it is claimed that fish from the port of Nazca could travel the 250 mountainous kilometres to Cusco in under 24 hours. It is the remains of one of these famous track, running from Wayllabamba to the famous Machu Picchu, that forms the basis of the modern Inca Trail trekking route. Where? The Inca Trail is in the high Andes of southern Peru. The nearest major city is Cusco: from talking to other walkers on the trek, it seems that those coming specifically to walk the trail will first fly into Lima and subsequently take an internal flight to Cusco airport. Depending on your tour ...

Ullswater, Lake District 18/10/2009

No lakeland experience is complete without seeing Ullswater

Ullswater, Lake District Ullswater is one of the many water bodies that give the Lake District National Park its name. Situated in the region dubbed by Wainright the Far Eastern Fells, it is a lake of incredible grandeur and beauty, and one which I have been lucky enough to know since I was four years old. I have paddled in it, sailed on it, rowed on it, walked beside, fallen into it and photographed it: and now I hope to persuade you to do the same. (I apologise in advance for the length of this review – I was doing my best not to miss anything out! I’ve included headings so that anyone seeking particular information should be able to find it more easily.) General feel of the Lake As the second biggest lake in Lakeland, and one of the deepest, it is inevitable that Ullswater should be an impressive example of mountain scenery. What takes the new visitor by surprise is that it is many ways a being of two halves: the head nestled deep into some of England’s highest mountains, and the long silver tail tapering away towards the more rolling countryside between the Lakes and the Pennines. The surrounding landscape varies from shattered scree to sticky marshland to scrubby upland forest to thick cloaks of heavy scented pines. It is this eclectic nature that makes Ullswater one of the most scenically variable lakes in the region. Major Settlements There are three settlements of note around the shores of Ullswater, Pooley Bridge, Patterdale and Glenridding. Pooley Bridge lies at the northern end, and ...

Pinocchio (DVD) 17/10/2009

Pinocchio - a voyage to the darker side of Disney

Pinocchio (DVD) Pinocchio, the famous story of the adventures of a little wooden boy, was first released to American audiences in 1940. At a point where Europe was already embroiled in the Second World War and the USA’s own entry lay just around the corner, Walt Disney chose for his second film a fantastical adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s puppet morality tale. The Story The story of Pinocchio begins, not with the main character with himself, but with the film’s guide and narrator Jiminy Cricket (a cricket, mind bendingly enough!) He takes shelter from the cold in the house of Gepetto, a toymaker who has just finished building a wooden puppet. Just before going to sleep, Gepetto sees that one of the stars in the night sky is a wishing star: and so, as a lonely old man with only his cat and fish for company might do, he wishes that his puppet might become a real boy. Of course, this being Disney, the fairy of the star decides to take Gepetto at his word. She transforms Pinocchio, if not into a real boy, then into a wooden boy with a life of his own, and charges Jiminy Cricket to act as the conscience that a puppet doesn’t have. But even though Pinocchio appears around four or five years old, he is as innocent as the day he was born (which is., effectively, the day the film begins) and it is his naivety and trust in others that lands him in the series of scrapes that form the main body of the film. Characters The good characters in this film display a great deal of charm. Pinocchio is an ...

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (DVD) 16/10/2009

Snow White - 70 years and still as good as ever

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (DVD) When Walt Disney first suggested releasing a feature length animated film in the 1930s, the prevailing response was that he must have been a little mad. More than seventy years later, Snow White is still available as a testament to how wrong general opinion can be. The Story Like many of the brilliant films that followed it, Snow White was based on a fairy tale – in this case the German fairy tale Schneewittchen, as collected by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. It follows the fortunes of beautiful young princess Snow White, who is driven from her home by the murderous intentions of her jealous step mother and finding herself living with a group of seven comical dwarves. This being a Disney fairy tale (SPOILER for those who have yet to watch this) it is probably no surprise that she becomes beloved by the dwarves, defeats the evil queen and marries the prince of her dreams. But Disney have a long track record in films proving that it is the journey, rather than the destination, that is the most important thing. The Characters In terms of characters, I should first say that Snow White is not entirely what you might expect of a Disney heroine. As someone who grew up with the films of the so-called ‘Disney Renaissance’, and with characters such as Jasmine, Esmeralda and Belle, I found her to be a lot less self reliant and realistic than my favourite ‘princesses’ and so found a lot more interest in the rest of the cast. It may well be a generational difference, but I always thought ...

Love At Goon Park - Deborah Blum 10/10/2009

A little in love with 'Love at Goon Park'

Love At Goon Park - Deborah Blum ‘He was born out of place: a dreamer and a poet planted in the practical Iowa earth. As unlikely as a rose in a cornfield...he was such a funny little misfit of a child, hemmed in by orderly fields, too often dreaming down those rows of green and gold to the point where they met the rim of the sky.’ So begins Deborah Blum’s description of Harry Harlow, behaviourist, visionary and subject of the biography ‘Love at Goon Park’. Not exactly the dry opening perhaps anticipated in a scientific work, but then, as the book goes on to demonstrate, Harlow was a man who deserved a rather more unusual, lyrical introduction. In a sterile, emotionally stilted period, Harry Harlow was the maverick who dared to champion ( to borrow from Frankie Goes to Hollywood!) the power of love. Blum, having the first chapter acquainted the reader with Harlow, then takes them back to the late 19th/early 20th century, setting a scene that baffles the modern imagination. The world she presents is one where the terror of infectious diseases has led to a culture in foundling homes and hospitals of minimal contact between adult and child, and where displays of affection between mother and child are condemned by eminent psychologists as ‘damaging to character’. In this world, which reads like a parallel world so near and so far from our own, the field of animal behaviour is led by figures such as Pavlov and B.F.Skinner, to whom an animal is an unthinking box of conditioned reflexes. This is a culture that ...

Journey to the River Sea - Eva Ibbotson 03/10/2009

A Journey to the River Sea well worth taking

Journey to the River Sea - Eva Ibbotson I first came across Eva Ibbotson at the age of four, when I had an audio tape of a wonderful story called the Secret of Platform 13. I was delighted, then, when nearly ten years later Journey to the River Sea cropped up in the Carnegie Medal reading list at my school, and quickly became a firm favourite with myself and all of my friends. Journey to the River Sea is set in Brazil, at the time of the Rubber Barons of the Amazon. At the centre of the story is Maya, the orphan of two adventurous archaeologist parents, living in a reputable girls’ school in London when she receives a summons from her Uncle Carter to come and live with his family in the Amazon. With the company of formidable governess Miss Minton, she journeys from England to Belem and to the rainforest city of Manaus, where the Carters and their vicious twin daughters live in a strange colonial patch of England, with their new world kept very much at arms length. But instead of being afraid of the wild country, Maya embraces the wondrous natural environment around. She rejects the sterile confines of the Carter’s fake Little England in favour of the light, life and magic of the Amazon, and in doing so encounters a rush of brilliant characters: Professor Glastonberry, the daft academic head of Manaus museum; Clovis, a boy actor yearning for England and home; and Finn Taverner, orphaned son of an explorer who refuses to claim the academic inheritance that is his birthright. So runs the plot, as far as I am ...

The Smoke Jumper - Nicholas Evans 02/10/2009

The Smoke Jumper - acceptable, but not the best

The Smoke Jumper - Nicholas Evans Nicholas Evans’ most famous story is The Horse Whisperer, made famous in full glossy Hollywood style by Robert Redford ten years ago. Like that book and Evans’ other masterpiece The Loop, the heart of The Smoke Jumper lies very much in the American West, and uses those grand surroundings as the primary backdrop for a tale of love and loss. In a small town in Montana we encounter two apparently sensible men, good humoured musician Ed and taciturn farmer Connor. I use the word ‘apparently’, because the activity that acts as glue to these two men’s friendship is smoke jumping – parachuting from planes to put out forest fires. They are a tight knit pair with an apparently unbreakable bond. That is, until Ed brings his youth worker girlfriend Julia into the situation and Connor falls hopeless, unforgivably in love. Julia, and the love that both men have for her, will change all their lives forever. Thus Evans sets the scene, balancing characters in a situation as volatile as a gunpowder keg. Over the succeeding chapters, characters will suffer and make mistakes: fall in and out of love: travel to the farthest corners of the earth. It is no major spoiler to say that not every character will make the end of the book. It sounds like the recipe for a truly magnificent story – so it is strange that when I reached the end, I found myself left underwhelmed. Evans definitely has a talent for description, particularly of the Wild American mountain scenery that is the spiritual home of ...

Bleak House - Charles Dickens 21/09/2009

Bleak House - bleak, yes, but worth the effort!

Bleak House - Charles Dickens From the outside, Bleak House is nothing if not a daunting prospect - my copy was over 800 pages of dusty mid-1800s prose. Even with the benefit of having watched the TV series and so beginning with a reasonable knowledge of plot and characters, I was still expecting the read to be more a trudge than a thrill ride. It caught me by surprise, therefore, how good this book turned out to be. To begin with, the characterisation was expectional - sympathetic characters such as Esther and Ada, coupled with comedic characters such as Miss Flite and a truly despicable pantomime villian in Mr Tulkinghorn. Along with these traditional character types, Dickens also includes some more complex individuals. Lady Dedlock, the bored noblewoman with a chequered history, is one of my favourite female characters in any book I've read. Having introduced you to these characters, the story puts them into all sorts of unusual and difficult situations, in which current relationships are examined and old secrets brought to light. It would ruin the book to give too much information on the plot - the episodic format, where chapters were published week by week over the course of 18 months, means that cliffhangers are rife and I wouldn't dream of pre-empting any of the twists! Suffice to say that a book that owes so much to both melodrama and murder mystery is bound to throw up plenty of surprises, and even when you see them coming, it is still possible to admire the story's complexity in bringing them ...
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