My First Holiday

As you can probably guess from the title of this entry, Éowyn (and her parents) have just returned from a week’s holiday in Devon as a break for Lucinda’s birthday.  This was Éowyn’s first holiday (we are counting the trip to Colchester as a mini-break) and so an important stage in anyone’s life and the furthest she has ever been from her place of birth.  To ease her (and us) into the idea of family holidays we hired a three bedroom cottage from one of the guys from work.  It is in the South Hams village of Noss Mayo overlooking the Newton creek and Yealm estuary along with it’s twin from across the creek Newton Ferrers.

The Devon and Cornish peninsula always appear (to an outsider like me) to have peculiar microclimates and towns only separated by a few miles can experience very different weather.  This is in no small part to the geography of the area, high moorlands, V-shaped valleys and numerous coves and inlets, providing shelter or acting as a funnel depending on the direction of the winds.  And so it was the case with our trip.  The forecast wasn’t good according to the national weather reports and we feared the worse.  The week did start a little wet but soon gave way to warmer, drier weather.

Noss Mayo and Newton Ferrers sit either side of a V-shaped valley and as such walking anywhere was hard work and kept you fit.  There is a voss that links Noss Mayo to Newton Ferrers which is accessible at low tide else it is a longer walk to Bridgend to cross the creek .  Due to the timing of the low tides we only managed to cross the voss once, and then only just.  The tide came in quiet quickly and by the time we had crossed to the other side the voss was completely under water.

We took it relatively easy on our holiday and didn’t really do too much driving once we were there.  We spent a day in Padstow to meet up with a friend of Lucinda’s from university.  Ruth was down on holiday with her boyfriend Rob and their dog Rooney.  It was the first time that they had met since leaving university, although they have kept in touch regularly via snail mail.  They have vowed to keep in touch via letters instead of e-mail/ text message/ instant messaging/ social networking sites and a plethora of alternative ways of communication that permeate modern living.

One of my good friends Andy popped down for a day or so and took the headland walk out of Noss Mayo.  We took it very gently and took most of the afternoon, especially pushing Éowyn in her pushchair.  The views were spectacular and would highly recommend it for anyone spending sometime in the area.  The walk ends at the Ship Inn which is the perfect place to end such an adventure.  The staff were very friendly and the food fantastic, if a little pricey but you could not grumble about the size of the portions!

The only other major excursion we did was to visit Delamore House in nearby Cornwood.  It had an exhibition of sculpture and paintings.  Not usually my kind of thing but some of the sculptures and you can see on the Flickr pages were excellent, especially the work by Oxfordshire artist Daren Greenhow, anyone that can make a Veló-ciraptor out of old bicycle parts (get it? Veló – ciraptor.  Oh, forget it) gets my vote.

Éowyn seemed to really enjoy herself during the whole holiday and, apart from the first night, slept through the night.  This is probably due to the fact that she had both her parents undivided attention for a week.  She also took another big step on her development is so much that we stopped her dream feed.  Now she is regularly taking solids the need for that extra feed disappears but we were still nervous to stop it.  However, there has been no adverse reaction and the fact that she hasn’t woke is proof that she no longer needs it.  She is now an adept at crawling, and has been readying herself for the next stage: walking.  She regularly pulls herself up to her knees but as yet has not found the strength to stand.  Yesterday that changed and for the first time she pulled herself to a standing position using the pouffe.  Her latest entertainment though is to crawl into the kitchen and watch the washing machine.  If it isn’t on she gets quite annoyed and bangs her hands on the floor.  I suppose it is better than being a telly addict…

Unfortunately upon our return we have had some bad news.  Éowyn’s Great Great Auntie Iris has passed away.  She had a bleed on the brain caused by a cerebral aneurysm and although initially it did not seem life threatening she contracted an infection and her condition worsened.  She passed away on the morning of Sunday 24th May 2009  at the age of 88, one week short of her 64th Wedding Anniversary.  Our thoughts are with her husband, my Great Uncle Albert.  Rest well Auntie Iris.

Great-Great Auntie Iris
Great-Great Auntie Iris

At the Zoo

As you may recall my birthday present from the family was to be a keeper for the day at Colchester Zoo.  That day was Friday.  As Colchester is quite a distance from home then part two of the birthday surprise was a couple of nights at the nearby Five Lakes Golf, Country Club and Spa.  Therefore we headed to Maldon after morning rush hour on Thursday to take full advantage of the facilities.  This was also Éowyn’s first mini-break away.  She has stopped at Nanny Fran’s but not since her new awareness has developed and never in a hotel without all of her familiar things.

So after unpacking and settling in we headed to the spa facilities to take Éowyn swimming for the first time.  She has grown to like the bath especially since she has discovered splashing but we were unsure how she would take to a swimming pool.  This was probably the best introduction since the swimming pool was all but empty so there were no waves from the other people and more importantly there was little noise.  Swimming pools can be extremely noisy places especially when they are busy, and we were conscious that this could be a problem when we first took her swimming and we hoped that this would not put her off.  Another benefit was that we could take our camera in to capture her first swim, something that public swimming pools will certainly not let you do.  As you can see from the pictures below she thoroughly enjoyed it.

She did not enjoy sleeping in a strange cot in a strange room however and awoke in the middle of the night screaming.  It took us a while to calm her down, hopefully we didn’t disturb any of the other guests.

Friday was ‘Zoo-Keeper for the day‘ day!  We arrived early at Colchester Zoo in the middle of an icy downpour.  The day had started brightly but soon deteriorated into a real winter shower.  This meant that the zoo was quieter than usual as a day at the zoo is usually a fair-weather day out.

As you can see from the Colchester Zoo website there are three different schemes for the ‘Keeper for the day‘ experience; Lucinda had booked scheme B – the Carnivores, she knows me so well.  There were two of us on the scheme, myself and a lady called Jane.  We were to report at the Customer Services desk at 11:00am sharp ready for our first task with zoo-keeper Carrie.

We headed straight to the meerkats where we were to feed them live mealworms.  We were warned not to pet them (as with most animals at the zoo, they are not pets) as they will bite and have needle sharp teeth, as well as long claws on their forefeet.  Meerkats have a varied diet but the mealworms encourages them to forage, since the mealworms when scattered on the ground attempt to burrow into the soil (and who can blame them).  However, meerkats have an acute sense of smell and can smell invertebrates up to a metre below the surface.  What did surprise me, what that they were smaller than I expected, only about the size of my foot.  They were very inquisitive but when they realised that we were out of mealworms they headed back to the warmth of their ‘caves’.

Another tub of mealworms (poor mealworms) in hand we headed to the squirrel monkey cage.  Very cute but highly mischievous we were not allowed in the enclosure with them but fed them through the bars of their cage.

The next stop was to an animal that most people have never heard of.  The Binturong is a relation of the civet that lives in the forest of  Asia.  It is also known as the bearcat although it is neither.  It is has a thick long prehensile tail with which it can support its own body weight and big strong claws that it uses for climbing trees.  As we walked into the cage it came up to greet us, somewhat like a dog and you had to resist the urge to bend down to stroke him.  It is amazing how friendly an animal can get when you have a big bowl of its favourite food, it this case fruit, animals pellets and sprats.  He definitely had his favourite food: bananas, followed closely by grapes and turned his nose up against anything else until they had all gone.  A very cute animal that I recommend that you all go and visit when you next visit a zoo.

We then headed from the small mammals to the carnivores and from Carrie to Vickie.  The first carnivore on the list was the Fossa.  A very agile relative of the civet that is found only on the island of Madagascar, it is especially adept at hunting lemurs.  As with the next few animals on the list we were unable to enter the enclosure for our own safety but the presence of the keeper (with food) brought her to the front of the cage so that we got a good view of her.

Again, the next beast on the list was too dangerous for us to enter their enclosure.  The Amur Leopard Dende, is one of the 35 or so Amur Leopards in the world.  Probably the rarest big cat in the world, their numbers are threatened due to poaching (both of the cats themselves for Chinese medicine and their skins, protection of livestock in the leopard’s territory and of their prey), deforestation, and genetic inbreeding due to such low population numbers.  Vickie however has built a relationship with the leopard such that they are training him to present himself for medical examinations, so that they can listen to his heart (very difficult because he gets so excited when his is interacting with Vickie that his purring deafens the vet) and take blood samples, all without resorting to anethatising him.  Dende is so happy to see Vickie that when she approached his enclosure he ran to greet her at the glass, pawing it as a large and over-affectionate moggy.  It was great to be so close to such a beautiful cat.

Next on the list was to clean the lions’ bedding.  Ensuring that both lions were in the open the shutter was released so that we could safely enter their indoor enclosure.  We changed their straw bedding and washed down the area so that their bedroom was fit for a king.

Our final stop before lunch was to feed the margays.  Small spotted cats from South America they spend most of their time in trees and so to provide enrichment we hung portions of rabbit from trees in their enclosure hidden in toilet rolls, so that they had to work to get their food and sprayed perfume in the branches of the trees.  We entered their enclosures while they were there but they were far too wary to approach us.  As soon as we left though the male was straight after the food, while the female found an irresistable urge to rub herself against the perfume.  Apparently they like the perfume and rub their own scent into it.

An hour for lunch and we were picked up by Sarah the keeper of the African savanna mammals.  The first task was to feed the Red River Hogs, so called because they are red, live by rivers and are hogs.  Although omnivores,  we fed them their fruit and vegetable course.  They displayed a preference for apples, and would not touch the others until they were sure that all the apples had been thrown.  Due to their unpredictable nature we were not allowed to enter their enclosure but we could lean over the fence and pet them, always bearing in mind that their jaws are strong enough to crush coconuts and they are quick enough to catch rabbits.

We then walked round to the main enclosure and Sarah told us about their giraffes, rhinos, kudus, zebras and ostriches.  Again their unpredictable nature means that we were unable to enter the enclosure.  However we were taken to their bedding quarters where we made a bed for the kudus, then we were handed a bunch of leaves and taken to feed the giraffes.  It is amazing how big a giraffe is.  I think we all accept that giraffes are the tallest animals in the world, but it is not until you are standing next to one that you realise just how big they are.  See the photos below.

The last but not least encounter for the day was with the aardvark.  Famous for being the first noun in the English language, the aardvark (Earth Pig in Afrikaans) is a medium sized burrowing mammal.  Colchester Zoo has the enviable honour of being the only zoo in the UK that has successfully bred aardvarks and their fourth baby aardvark, Draco, was born in January.  Aardvarks are relatively peaceful and so we were allowed to enter their enclosure and were encouraged to stroke them.  The adults seemed nonplussed as nocturnal animals they barely roused from their slumber.  Draco though, as any child was fascinated by the visitors and came over for a sniff and stroke.  Sarah even demonstrated how ticklish he is.  As she tickled his sides he rolled on his back for you to stroke his belly.  What a fantastic way to end a fabulous day.

So if you have ever entertained the idea of being a zoo keeper I thoroughly recommend the Colchester experience, it is without doubt one of the best presents that I have ever had and would jump at the chance to do it again.

Please enjoy the photos below and more on the flickr pages too.

Peace and love


Forward Motion!

Éowyn’s development is coming on leaps and bounds and her personality is becoming more defined with each passing day.  She is very curious, slightly vain (she likes to look at herself in the mirror  – although that could be due in part to curiosity), puts in just enough effort to attain her goal, loves her food and finds silly things highly amusing.  Above all she is most precocious, a family girl and likes her routine.  This week she has demonstrated all of the above.

Wednesday marked her cousin Maddy’s 7th birthday so a roast dinner and birthday cake was in order around Nan and Granddad’s.  Éowyn joined us at the kitchen table and enjoyed her own (liquidised) roast dinner, a little bit of chicken breast and a selection of vegetables.  She also impressed Nan and Granddad with her new skill:  Crawling forwards!

For a number of weeks, she has been able to crawl backwards, but over the last weekend that has developed into forward motion.  Initially it was a couple of tentative steps (if that is the right word) followed by a 180° turn and the easier backward crawling method.  So with an air of training mom and dad encouraged the forward motion with the carrot of a bottle of milk.  Taking after her parents the promise of food was all the encouragement she needed and forward motion was achieved.  Now there is no stopping her, and we have discovered how un-childproof our house it.  She is into everything, and whatever is in reach is instantly tasted to see if it is edible.  She, however, only exerts just enough energy to achieve her goal.  If she is crawling after something lying on the floor, she will crawl to within 6 inches or so of the object and then dive forwards, stretching her arms out to grab it and drag it back towards her, rather than crawl all the way.

Thursday is Songs, Stories and Rhymes at Egham Library.  Although Éowyn does enjoy her nursery rhymes (especially row, row, row your boat and head, shoulders, knees and toes) this week she seemed a little non-plussed by some of it, preferring instead to show off her new found skill, crawling around the other mothers to have a look at the other babies.

Friday was the wedding of friends of mine Nick and Kirsty (you can link to their blog under the ‘Sites of Interest’ column on the right, The Whirly Wheelers).  So that we could attend, Nanny Fran kindly agreed to take a day off work and baby-sit for her.  It has been a while since Mom has spent so much time with her, and obviously she could see how much that she had not only grown, but also developed.  Éowyn was very content to play with her Nan and show off her new skills.  In marked contrast to Nanny’s Fran’s last visit when Éowyn seemed to be upset that Nanny Fran was in her house rather than in West Bromwich.  That I think was just part of her growing awareness and trying to associate people with places.

I think that Éowyn was aware that something was happening, though and as mom and dad got ready and Nanny Fran tried to get her ready for bed she began to cry.  If we went into her, she would stop but would start again as soon as we left.  Mom assured us that she would be alright as she could see the obvious concern in our eyes and as we left the house Éowyn gave up the struggle and succumbed to the arms of Morpheus.  It was one of the hardest things to do, to leave your crying daughter to go out and enjoy yourself, however Mom put our minds to rest with the aid of a picture text message of Éowyn peacefully sleeping in her cot.  Thanks Mom!

Nick and Kirsty’s wedding was excellent, Kirsty looked beautiful but I think that she was upstaged by her son George who held court on the dancefloor (see photos below).   Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and the live band were excellent, only topped by the hog-roast!  We wish Nick and Kirsty all the best for their future lives together.

Love and peace