feeding time

15 09 2014

Last month, for the first time in many years, we took a holiday in the UK, staying at a remote farmhouse in Wales. Not too far away was the Gigrin Farm Red Kite Feeding & Rehabilitation Centre, so that was somewhere we had to visit. The kites are fed at the same time every day, and the number of them visiting varies according to the weather. In bad winter conditions there can be as many as 600 birds feeding in the course of an hour; we estimate we may have seen as many as 200.

The food is very lean beef, fit for human consumption.

lean beef

Visitors – the human kind – sit in hides, watching and waiting for the kites to appear.

it begins
it begins

seeing red
seeing red

nearly a skyful
nearly a skyful

A sky full of red kites – that in itself is breathtaking. And then, once the crows have declared it safe, they begin to swoop.

table manners
table manners

who dropped their dinner?
who dropped their dinner

just checking out the menu
just checking out the menu

hey, leave some for us!
hey, leave some for us


out of the way, crows!
out of the way, crows!


not quite albino
not quite albino

There’s a rare white red kite in the area. The one in my picture clearly isn’t as white as the one shown on the website, but it had strikingly less pigmentation than all the other birds we saw that day. I’m sure it must be related.

the crows say: it’s safe
the crows say it's safe

fly past
fly past

It’s worth clicking through to Flickr and looking at the large version of some of those images. They aren’t all as good as I’d like, given the limitations of poor light, no tripod, and a limited amount of zoominess, they aren’t too shoddy either.

— words & pictures by Elizabeth

the impact of absence

6 09 2014

Last month we went into Birmingham to see 5,000 ice men. It was a WW1 commemoration, by Brazilian artist Néle Azevedo, commissioned by Birmingham Hippodrome. War commemorations are something I’m wary about, but the prospect of seeing these thousands of ice figures arrayed on the steps of Chamberlain Square was an irresistible photo opportunity.

After doing all sorts of other arty things in the pouring rain, we turned up just before the start of Minimum Monument. The crowd was surprisingly large and cheerful, considering the weather, and their reward was that as soon as Néle Azevedo started to explain the project the afternoon was transformed into a gloriously sunny one.

Once the mayor had placed the first 20cm high ice figure on the steps, the rest of the crowd began collecting them from their nearest freezer, peeling off the plastic covering and arranging them on the steps.


As the number of figures grew, so did the impact.


It became clear that part of the significance lay in the uniformity and repetition and part in the small differences both in the moulding, some customisation by the crowd, and in the melting.

Two adorned

And being made of ice, there seemed also to be a commentary on things that are barely there – by virtue both of transparency and their brief existence.


Getting down to the level of the figures gave the impression that they were enjoying themselves in the sun, watching the crowds and exchanging observations.

We sit and watch, together and alone

life in the sun

There was nothing melancholy about it.

watching the crowds

They disappeared so quickly, though, losing limbs and coherence.


The sheer scale of the spectacle made an impact all its own. Tiny ice people, giant living people.

Standing in contemplation

present and absent

uniquely disappearing

It was lovely to see the mass engagement, and to experience the happy atmosphere and sense of something magical happening. I took it not as a jingoistic expression of pride in war, but as a recognition of each brief life and the unique and ongoing impact of every absence.

— words by Elizabeth
— pictures Elizabeth & Paul

Conversations with a magic bus station

20 06 2014

‘For any one firm to have done two buildings of that scale and quality in 10 years, I would call a lifetime’s achievement’

Iain Nairn on the Preston Bus station and Halifax Building Society HQ

I don't want to cause no fuss

So what do you do when a work meeting takes you to a city you have never visited before? Clearly you go and visit the bus station.

Well you do if you if the city is Preston and the bus station is a magnificent example of brutalist architecture.

But can I buy your Magic Bus?

Approaching from the north side it is one of the long sweeping curves up to the car park that is first seen. You walk under this ramp and into the station building. Close to you can see that some care and attention is needed but the structure still looks strong and purposeful.

Thruppence and sixpence every day

Inside, it feels like you are back in the 1970s but the strong, functional design appears to still work well. With only a little extra cleaning and some limited modernising of the retail spaces the passenger concourse would be as dynamic and fresh as when it first opened. It has the atmosphere of a successful building, albeit one that has been harshly treated over the years.

I wanna drive my bus to my baby each day

The building was designed by Keith Ingham and Charles Wilson of Building Design Partnership with E. H. Stazicker and built by Ove Arup and Partners between 1968 and 1969. Whilst rightly recognised as one of the most striking and important buildings of its type in the country for many years it was threatened by demolition in the various schemes for the redevelopment of the area.

You'll be an inspector, have no fear

Campaigns to keep the building, by groups such as the Twentieth Century Society and Save Preston Bus Station, were successful and the building was granted Grade II listed status in 2013.

Every day I get in the queue

Gillian Darley explains the importance of why PBS should be kept and Martin Baker’s article The Battle for PBS captures the flavour of the arguments from both the buildings supporters and detractors.

But it is the short film 56,000 by short film by Paul Adams and Andrew Wilson that is the best way to understand the importance of the building’s architecture and history.

The campaign to save PBS was justly successful but other butalist masterpieces are still at risk.

The equally important Madin Library of Birmingham is threatened with impending destruction and must be saved.

I don't care how much I pay

With apologies to The Who for the titles

— words & pictures by Paul

— more pictures on Flickr

Now open: Birmingham’s beating heart

8 09 2013

Outer cirles

“It is an honour for me to be here in Birmingham, the beating heart of England. Birmingham is very special for me because it is here that I found myself alive, seven days after I was shot. It is now my second home, after my beloved Pakistan. The doctors and nurses of this town worked hard to help me recover. The teachers of this town strived to rehabilitate my educational career, and the great people of this city gave me great moral support.”

“Pens and books are the weapons that defeat terrorism. I truly believe the only way we can create global peace is through educating not only our minds, but our hearts and our souls.”

Malala Yousafzai

On the 3rd September 2013 the New Library of Birmingham was opened. Starting with a fanfare followed by an inauguration speech by Malala Yousafzai, a truly inspired and appropriate choice, the public were finally allowed to see how the reported £188 million had been spent.

Built to replace the stunning, but badly treated, Madin Library the decision and design has been controversial. Having observed the construction of the new library from a hole in the ground, to majestic concrete, to the final circular cage I am not convinced it is the right building in the right place, looming over Baskerville House with a fussy covering hiding a conventional glass box.

The inside, fortunately, is much more interesting.

Gather to celebrate

Arriving just after the doors open to find a large but friendly crowd. Yes a large crowd queuing to visit a library. After a slightly chaotic, but again friendly, wait it is through the doors into the large reception area. People are handing out information and the Stan’s Cafe Commentators are in a hut. Then up the blue-lined escalators to level 2 and the Book Rotunda, with many shelves of colour-coordinated law books.

Brass crowd

From level 2 is access to a large outside terrace garden with some good views of the city, but the best views are from the smaller, secret garden up on level 7 and the skyline viewpoint on level 9.

Garden vista

Entrance to the real

Alpha blue

Back inside to the Book Rotunda for the main reason for visiting, Together We Breath created by Super Critical Mass. The piece was for mass brass band, all volunteers from schools, colleges and professional ensembles. You can see the creators discuss the project and watch a clip of the rehearsal here. Whilst being described as having “not a tune in earshot but that’s not any kind of problem” the drone-brass did have a score, or at least a plan:

The Score
Photo by D Evans, used with permission

From my perspective the piece worked brilliantly, filling the space with hypnotic sound with a structure just beyond understanding, although it was slightly faster than expected from the rehearsal.

Brass large and small

Brass two

Brass three

This performance was the start of the Discovery Season, curated by the always interesting, and reliably brilliant Capsule, responsible for the Supersonic Festival and many amazing musical events. Very much looking forward to the rest of the season, especially Charlemagne Palestine and Rhys Chatham and Adrian Utley doing In C (with Pram!).

As for the rest of the building it is far too early to know if it will work but on day one the mixed and happy crowd loved it, with the story steps on the lower ground being very popular.

All too exciting

True there were some problems with the escalators stopping, probably due to the numbers of users, although I like to think it was in homage to the Madin Library with people stuck in the glass lift on its first day. Also some of the finish looks rough and hurried around the escalators. Even with all the people the building still felt spacious and easy to move around. The travelators from level 3 to 4 may help with people-moving but they do ruin the effect of the Book Rotunda cutting intrusively, in colour and size, across the top of the circular space.

Bright glass

The biggest disappointment, for me, is the Amphitheatre. From the original description and plans I envisaged more of a usable performance space, with tiered steps leading down to a below-ground stage. What we have is a sunken circle with no access from above and very limited viewing, just a single row around the fence. Whilst it is being used for some performances, and the opening fanfare, this appears a missed opportunity.

Cirles below

To help find your way around there is an excellent visitor guide which can be downloaded to prepare in advance.

And visit you must, this is an important addition to the city and deserves to be used and explored. Now if only we can convert Madin’s Library into the Birmingham Museum of Modern Art…

Brass blue

— words by Paul
— pictures by Paul & Dave

Views of Laos: the south

31 08 2013

Another short flight brings us to the city of Pakse and a boat trip down the Mekong Do Khong, one of the many islands in this part of the river. From here we visited waterfalls, saw river dolphins and took an elephant ride to a temple. The trip was completed with a land crossing back into Thailand.

The full set of photographs from this part of the trip can be found here.

On the Mekong south of Pakse
A type of grandeur

On the way up to Wat Phu
Seeking shelter

Inside one of the shrines at Wat Phu
One among many

On the wall at Wat Phu
Standing. Watching

A pontoon bridge to Khong Island
Walk on water

The Mekong from Khong island
Light splash

On the way to Ban Khang Tanglae village
Erode over time and water

At Ban Khang Tanglae village
Happy together

— words by Paul
— pictures by Paul

Views of Laos: Vientiane

30 08 2013

A short flight brings us to the capital city, Vientiane. A very small feeling city but relaxed and welcoming. From its soviet-style square, to a selection of temples and a colonial-style museum this was an easy city to explore during our all-too-brief visit.

The full set of photographs from this part of the trip can be found here.

Parade ground at the National Assembly Hall
The past is still with us

Motorcycle powered ink-jet printer at That Luang Stupa
May miss a business opportunity?

At That Luang Stupa complex
Foot marks

Memorial in the grounds of the That Luang Stupa complex
In memory of a life

View from the top of Patuxai (was Victory Arch)
Neatly set out

Inside Patuxai (was Victory Arch)
Seller on the spiral

Outside Patuxai (was Victory Arch)
Monk capture

One of the many statues at Wat Si Saket
Part missing

On a drive through the centre of the city
Small opening

— words by Paul
— pictures by Paul

Mulberry fields (forever)

29 08 2013

We crammed an awful lot into just one day on March 12th. After Sites 2 & 3 of the Plain of Jars we headed back into town for lunch. The group split up, to avoid overloading a single restaurant, and the two of us eventually opted for one of those deserted places that might turn out to be a terrible mistake. In fact we were served some of the best food we’d had in Lao: fried spring rolls and veg fried rice with really tasty, fiery dipping sauces. It was local food that hadn’t been made bland for tourists.

Midway through our meal a stream of people appeared from the floor above and exited through the restaurant, driving off in Toyota Hilux trucks with tinted windows. We couldn’t decide if they were office workers or local mafia.

After lunch, to Mulberries to meet the silkworms who’d made the scarves I bought in Luang Prabang.

In case of doubt

in case there was any doubt

We wandered through the mulberry fields, where all the production is organic, picking and eating the fruit, and thence into a shed where the worms live. The baby ones were tiny, but the older ones were unexpectedly large.

not twiglets

not twiglets

The larvae eat for several days, then sleep for several days in a cycle that changes as they age. Then they pupate and produces the all important cocoons.

let's pupate


To recover the silk thread, the cocoons are put into boiling water. Stirring them around with a stick picks up the threads and they are then unwound by hand into long strands.


A native cocoon produces about 300m of silk, a hyrid 700m.


After the cocoon has been removed the pupae are edible, and no potential source of food in wasted in Lao. Nothing is wasted in Lao.


All the dyes at Mulberries are natural materials. The different colours and their sources were shown on charts. Of course we spent lots of time browsing the goods in the shop – it’s only polite – but sadly there was nothing other than a packet of mulberry leaf tea with my name on it.


I did wish that they had yarn for sale, as well as woven goods – it would have been fabulous to buy laceweight silk yarn to crochet a shawl for myself.


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