Sunday, 30 December 2007

Chestnut Centre & the New Forest Otters and Owls

Today my father, partner and I went to the Chestnut Centre, a conservation and wildlife park located within the Peak District National Park, in Derbyshire. The Chestnut Centre is set in the grounds of Ford Hall, and much of it still comprises the original deer park.

The centre is home to a number of British mammals and owls, as well as some foreign species, including what had to be the highlight of the day - a giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) from South America. I had previously thought that giant otters looked ugly whenever I had seen a picture, but it turns out that they are lovely animals. They have shorter and darker fur than the otters I'm used to (Eurasian, North American River and Asian Short-Claw), but have a wonderful personality. Manoki the male otter at the chestnut centre was extremely vocal and happy to squeal or chatter to the visitors. Well worth a visit.

The Chestnut Centre has been open since 1984 and yet none of my family (all from the North West) had heard of it until Ian and I went to their partner centre in the New Forest.

The two places have similar species, but being set in different National Parks have very different scenery. The Chestnut Centre has a lovely stream/river running through it, which runs past the Eurasian and Asian otter pens and actually through the pen of the giant otter. As one would expect the New Forest Centre is much more wooded, but also seemed to have more enclosures. Of particular interest is a large indoor section, which houses some of Britains smaller mammals, including stoats, harvest mice, hedgehogs etc. It also has (I think) all but one species of British deer (sika, fallow, roe, red and muntjac), wild boar, mink and probably a couple of other extra animals.

I recommend both places to anyone interested in seeing British mammals. The chances of seeing a Scottish wildcat, pine marten, European otter etc in the wild being so small they give you a great opportunity to see these less familiar species close up.

Saturday, 29 December 2007


For at least 3 or 4 years I have on occasion passed the following sign whilst out in the countryside:

Each time I passed the sign I intended to look at the website when I got home and each time I forgot. Recently I began reading a book on woodlands and it suddenly dawned on me that I had never explored the site. Ian and I spent the next 2 hours drooling over woodlands all over the country. Many of them have strict guidelines regarding what you can and can't do if you buy them, but those are there to protect the wildlife so one cannot really mind that.

Since that night we have started a savings account for a wood. Unfortunately, according to my father the prices of woods have rocketed in the last few years. Fingers crossed that they don't continue to do so.

It's amazing how many woods are for sale in the UK and the variety of wildlife and landscapes that they capture. The woods mention deer, wild boar, badgers, otters, water voles, migrating geese, ... the list goes on. You can even purchase your very own stretch of a riverbank or the edge of a Norfolk broad ( in particular appealed to us).

Forestry qualifies for 100% relief from inheritance tax once you have owned it for more than 2 years. This includes the value of the land and the trees.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Beginners Russian

It’s only December 19th and as usual I’ve already thought of a million things I want to do or learn over the Christmas period. This year it includes learning statistics (not a simple matter, the 6 months of courses that I took in the past having failed to sink in), revising the last term of a German course in preparation for the new year, reading half a dozen books, writing 2 papers...

To add to this I bought a book on beginners Russian today (the new penguin complete course for beginners). I’ve been wanting to learn Russian for a couple of years now and Ian and I made a good attempt at learning the alphabet last March, but have progressed little since (although da and nyet can be heard in our house every day). I really like this book as it has lots of example passages in Russian, including sections from Russian novels and maps of Moscow city centre, places in Russia etc.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007


Norway has borders with Sweden, Finland and Russia. Apologies to all of you who think that is obvious, but had anyone asked me half an hour ago I would have said that it only bordered Sweden.

Monday, 17 December 2007


Reindeer (known as Caribou when wild in North America) are a type of deer found in the arctic and sub-arctic. Domesticated reindeer are mainly found in Russia and Scandinavia, whereas wild reindeer are mostly found in Norway, North America, Greenland, Iceland and South Georgia.

Both sexes have antlers which (in the Scandinavian variety) for old males fall off in December, for young males in the early spring, and for females, summer. Reindeer eat lichens, mushrooms, tree leaves, sedges and grasses and on occasion have been known to feed on lemmings, fish and birds eggs. During the summer, when their natural climate thaws and the ground is soft and muddy, their hooves become a bit spongy, which helps them to maintain traction in the sticky, sludgy environment. In the winter, the spongy foot pads of the caribou will shrink to expose the rim of the hoof, so that it can cut into the ice and snow and help hold the caribou’s footing.

Santa Claus' sleigh is pulled by flying reindeer. These were first named in the 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, (which I know by the alternative name 'Twas the night before Christmas') where they are called Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem. Dunder was later changed to Donder and — in other works — Donner, and Blixem was later changed to Blitzen. Some consider Rudolph as part of the group as well, though he was not part of the original named work referenced previously, and did not join the sleigh team until later.

Russian Names

I'm currently working my way through reading the Heron book set of the Greatest Masterpieces of Russian Literature. Throughout I have found the Russian system of names confusing. Having looked into the matter it appears that there are a number of rules, which unfortunately have changed over time, but I'll attempt to describe the most important ones here.

The complete Russian name is formed of a given name, patronymic, and a family name. Russian given names are often taken from the names of saints, especially those from Eastern Orthodox tradition, which are often of Greek origin. In the last century traditional Slavic names have again come into use.

One of the earliest means of differentiating one person from another person with the same name was the use of a patronymic.

If the father's given name ended in "-a" or "-ia," the basic patronymic ending is "-in" or "-yn," respectively (with the "a" or "ia" dropping out). Otherwise, the patronymic ended in an "-ov" or "-ev." The basic rule is that an "o" occured after a hard consonant, while an "e" occured after a soft consonant or in place of a vowel (i.e., with the vowel dropping out).2 If the name ends in "-ii" or "-yi," both vowels tend to drop out. They are replaced with a soft sign (') and the "-ev" ending (e.g., Vasilii becomes Vasil'ev).

So... Aleksei fathers Alekseev, Anton fathers Antonov, Mikhail fathers Mikhailov Boroda fathers Borodin, Malina (a man's name!) fathers Malinin, Sviatoslav fathers Sviatoslavov Vasilii fathers Vasil'ev, Iakov fathers Iakovlev, Iev fathers Ievlev.

Patronymics ending in "-vich" were popular in Novgorod and Pskov amongst the upper classes. However, by the 16th and 17th centuries Moscow had restricted the use of the "-vich" suffix to only the highest dignitaries. Simply add an "-ich" to the basic patronymic construction above, with the exception of given names that end in "-av" (in which case, the "ov" used in the aboveconstruction drops out to ease pronunciation): Alekseev becomes Alekseevich, Antonov becomes Antonovich, Mikhailov becomes Mikhailovich Borodin becomes Borodinich, Malinin becomes Malininich, Sviatoslavov becomes Sviatoslavich (note the missing "ov"!) Vasil'ev becomes Vasil'evich, Iakovlev becomes Iakovlevich, Ievlev becomes Ievlevich.

In most cases, women used the same types of patronymics as men. However, their bynames had to agree with the gender of the subject, which, in Russian, means that they had to add an "a" on the end. Therefore: Alekseev becomes Alekseeva, Antonov becomes Antonova, Mikhailov becomes Mikhailova, Borodin becomes Borodina, Malinin becomes Malinina, Sviatoslavov becomes Sviatoslavova Vasil'ev becomes Vasil'eva, Iakovlev becomes Iakovleva, Ievlev becomes Ievleva The same applied to patronymics written with a "-vich," which also had an "a" added to them e.g. Alekseevicha, Antonovicha, Mikhailovicha, Borodinicha, Malininicha, Sviatoslavicha, Vasil'evicha, Iakovlevicha, and Ievlevicha.

The given names can each have several different diminutives. Those of you familiar with Doctor Zhivago, for example, will know that Larissa was known to the majority of the other characters as Lara and her husband Pavel was known as Pasha. Here are some of the other diminutives that I've come across in my reading...

Aleksandr = Sasha, Shurik

Andrei = Andryusha

Fyodor = Fedya

Grigoriy = Grisha

Ivan = Vanya

Konstantin = Kostya

Mikhail = Misha

Pavel = Pasha

Pyotr (Petr) = Petya

Vladimir = Vova, Volodya

Anastasiya = Nastya

Anna = Anya

Antonina = Tonya

Larisa = Lara

Nadezhda = Nadya

Nataliya = Natasha

Tatiyana (Tatiana) = Tanya

Yekaterina = Katya, Katyusha

Yelena (Elena) = Lena

Friday, 14 December 2007

On This Day

A small entry to prevent my fathers second visit to my site beginning with the wombles.

On December 14th 1911 the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his team became the first people to reach the South Pole.

The Wombles

Many apologies to my father in advance for blogging so early regarding a subject he is less than fond of, but recently a Christmas quiz asked for the names of as many wombles as we could remember (including bonus points for guest wombles) and I'm afraid we only managed 4.

Elisabeth Beresford developed the characters around members of her family, and named them after places the family had associations with:

Great Uncle Bulgaria - the Wombles' leader, was based on Beresford's father-in-law
Tobermory - an engineer and handyman, was based on Beresford's brother, a skilled inventor
Orinoco - a shirker who loved sleep and food, was styled on Beresford's teenage son
Bungo - over-enthusiastic and bossy
Tomsk - athletic Womble
Wellington - scientifically inclined, named after her nephew's school
Madame Cholet - a cook, was styled on Beresford's mother

Later character names for the second series developed in the same manner:
Alderney - Madame Cholet's assistant, was named after where Beresford lived at the time of the second television series
Shansi - often paired with Alderney, as Bungo was with Orinoco
Miss Adelaide - schoolmistress
Stepney - East Ender with dreadlocks

My partner Ian would say his worst problem is his lack of a memory, and yet he can remember with extreme clarity many many things from his childhood. This includes a knack for childrens programmes theme songs (not just the tune, but also the lyrics - something I am completely incapable of). Remarkably the wombles isn't one of the ones he knows.

Underground, Overground, Wombling Free,
The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we.
Making good use of the things that we find,
Things that the everyday folks leave behind.

Uncle Bulgaria,
He can remember the days when he wasn't behind The Times,
With his map of the World.
Pick up the papers and take them to Tobermory!

Wombles are organized, work as a team.
Wombles are tidy and Wombles are clean.
Underground, Overground, wombling free,
The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we!

People don't notice us, they never see,
Under their noses a Womble may be.
We womble by night and we womble by day,
Looking for litter to trundle away.

We're so incredibly, utterly devious
Making the most of everything.
Even bottles and tins.
Pick up the pieces and make them into something new,
Is what we do!

DVD Regions

Every time I buy a DVD online I have to check which region it can be played in. This would be a lot quicker if I could remember which region is which. Now most sensibly I would have attempted to remember that all I really care about is the European region 2 (of course the US had to be region 1). Unfortunately every time I check the map I attempt to learn all the regions (under the assumption that this greater understanding will lead me never to forget). Instead this leads me to be entirely confused (why are Egypt and south Africa not in the african region, for example??) and causes me to forget the simple important fact that 99% of the people I buy for need region 2.

As an alternative solution my family could always check that they've got the right region before they add a DVD to their amazon wish lists. Do you do this already?? I know I've got it wrong in the past.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

The twelve days of Christmas

Each year on 'tree day' I hang 12 little gold pears on the Christmas tree. Each pear has a picture for one of the 12 days of Christmas and each year I remind myself to learn the entire song. It has always seemed easy to go from 6 geese a-laying down to the partridge, but for some reason the other 6 have always remained muddled.

Twelve drummers drumming,
Eleven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings,
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree!

The Twelve Days of Christmas is probably the most misunderstood part of the church year among Christians who are not part of liturgical church traditions. Contrary to much popular belief, these are not the twelve days before Christmas, but in most of the Western Church are the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany (January 6th; the 12 days count from December 25th until January 5th). In some traditions, the first day of Christmas begins on the evening of December 25th with the following day considered the First Day of Christmas (December 26th). In these traditions, the twelve days begin December 26 and include Epiphany on January 6.

There have been many adaptations to the carol in recent times. Whilst the English version uses 'my true love sent to me', many US versions say 'my true love gave to me'. Modern versions tend to say golden as opposed to gold rings. Four calling birds was originally four colly (black as coal) birds and then of course there is the Andy Williams version, which is entirely different altogether.

1 True Love refers to God
2 Turtle Doves refers to the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens refers to Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds refers to the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings refers to the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying refers to the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking refers to the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing refers to the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping refers to the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping refers to the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming refers to the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

Another new blog

Every day I think to myself 'I wish I knew that' at least a dozen times. Of course this is always succeeded by promises that I will learn various things, but more often than not the information goes in one ear and out the other. So today I shall begin to write down some random pieces of information that I wish I'd known years ago in the hope that from time to time I can use this blog as a reminder.