Author Archives: KT

About KT

Still thinking

The new adventures of KT

One month ago we left Bermuda and returned home to UK.

I have bought a new pair of wellingtons and started a new blog:

pinkbikegreengrass.wordpress.com 

KT

 

So long and thanks for all the fish! 

So long and thanks for all the fish!  
It is edging towards the end of November and my birthday. I am in a reflective mood because our Bermuda adventure is coming to a close. A few weeks yet before we leave the island, but close enough that I have been stocktaking to ensure we have just enough of the essentials before we sell the car. (wine, bread, marmite, toothpaste and loo rolls – anything else? )
To say I will miss Bermuda is an unfathomable understatement, but I am also looking forward to “going home”.


When we first arrived on island the commonest question was “Where are you from?”, one I found hard to answer – a while back we had sold the family home in Farnham, downsizing to a small home in the Buckinghamshire countryside, but due to a London-working life we had spent less than 100 days living in that house and so it didn’t feel as if I was “from” that area at all. But neither was I “from” London, though work found me anchored there midweek. My answer developed into “from UK, the south mainly”. In time it was asked less and less. But now, when people learn we are leaving Bermuda the question crops up again in the form “Where are you going? Where is home?” I still don’t know how to answer!
The truth is, we haven’t decided. The statement on the Bermuda flag would fit well – Quo fata ferrunt.

Whither the fates carry us.

Yes, that’s where we are going.


The next adventure is around the corner and it could be anywhere. Currently neither of us have work to go to and that is a strange feeling. Far too much energy to “retire” so we shall see what crops up and take it from there.
Without getting maudlin I was considering what it is about Bermuda that I will miss – in no particular order:
Tree frogs – even the one that sits outside our bedroom window squeaking loudly all night long. I have found a recording of Silent Night set to a background of tree frogs and Robert has made an audio clip of the Somers Hill frogs – not sure when or if we might play this, a dinner party perhaps?

Blue skies – with small fluffy clouds falling over themselves right in front of you

The colour of the sea – indescribable, as many shades of blue as there are words for Eskimo snow

22mph – In UK I am going to be one of those annoying women who drive along at 50mph in the middle lane of the motorway; no, not 50, far to fast.

Bermudian accents – hard to explain, but now I have lived here I would recognise one – a softish mix of American English and Elizabethan English with a shake of Caribbean.

Swimming and snorkelling and the fish – we have seen just about all of the fish on the ID card they sell at the Aquarium and have some pretty cool photos of many of them, including the Eagle Ray we spotted last week.

Having my shopping packed for me – I can see myself forgetting this does’t happen in Sainsbury’s.

Serviced gas stations – for my English friends this means not having to get out of the car when you fill up with petrol, and they clean your windscreen too.

Food at Angelo’s – this week I had a Crepe MonteCarlo and it was absolutely delicious!

Verdmont – where I learned how to be a docent and met many lovely people

Sitting in the warm sun and reading all day long

Twice weekly rubbish collections – yes, I mean two times each week, not every other week as in UK

Peas and rice – which is not green peas but purple beans and rice

Pink – kayak, bike, sand

There are some things I shan’t miss – mopeds everywhere, quirky road junctions, cassava pie, humid days, power cuts, sand in the car (and just about everywhere else too), tipping (just because I cannot calculate 17.5% so usually overdo it), co-pays at the doctors, salted codfish and potatoes, unreliable internet, the cost of everything; but even reading through this list I wonder if any of them really bothered me, they just add to the memories.
I have taken over 4000 photographs, written 150 or so blogposts with 13,000+ visitors (to my blog, not to my home!) and have thousands of memories.
And one day, I may come back, you never know.
Quo fata ferrunt!

Walking Bermuda

Now the weather has cooled down a little we have been getting out for some walks.

The most important was the PKD walk along South Shore beaches to raise money for research into Polycystic Kidneys. I hear there are 17 families with ADPKD on the island which places quite a demand on the island’s renal services. it was the first walk for PKD that I have done, but won’t be the last – they happen in UK as well. Beautiful weather, friendly company and not too long – brilliant for first walk of my walking season.

Bermuda PKD Walk 2015

Bermuda PKD Walk 2015

Halfway point for PKD walk

Halfway point for PKD walk

Our next walk was Coopers Island, the old NASA observation station at the end of St David’s Island. On a Sunday afternoon we found it deserted, had the beach to ourselves.

A Sailing Boat on a reach around the end of the island

A Sailing Boat on a reach around the end of the island

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Looking back towards St David’s from Coopers Island

This is all for a purpose – my walking boots are coming out from under the bed back home.  So I need some practice.  One of my Bermuda friends who “went back home” earlier this year has begun walking around the coast of Britain – in stages over time, she’s not completely nuts – and as I may have said before in this blog, I am competitive – so if she can do it then so can I ….. (might live to regret saying that)

Last weekend we continued the East End explorations and started at Ferry Point. This is where the ferry took people from St George’s across to the mainland before the causeway was built in 1871. The gap between Ferry Point and Coney Island was bridged by the Railway Line in the 1940s but today it is rough parkland surrounding ruins of 3 forts and one impressive Martello Tower, built in 1820s by a Major Thomas Blanchard.  Apparently it was restored in 2008 and for a period was open to the public – sadly no longer so.

We took the path from Whalebone Bay keeping close to the edge of the bay itself, an overgrown footpath coming off the Railway Trail.

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Despite having fallen in the hurricane, the casuarina tree stubbornly grows in a sideways reorientation

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Military cemetery for the Queen’s Royals, 1864

The military cemetery to the side of the trail  – 18 graves of soldiers from the Second Battalion of the Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment.  That regiment was first raised in 1661 to protect Tangiers, becoming one of the senior regiments in the British Army.  The regimental history  doesn’t say what they were doing in Bermuda in 1860s, but sadly they fell to the outbreak of yellow fever in 1864.

Review of 1864 from The Royal Gazette - paragraph about yellow fever

Review of 1864 from The Royal Gazette – paragraph about yellow fever

The above exert from the Royal Gazette digital archives made me curious – not the commentary on the epidemic, but the sentence that follows – what, exactly, is a “Day of General Humiliation”? Google   comes up with Queen Victoria  calling for Wednesday 7th October 1857 to be a day of general humiliation to pray for “tranquility in India” .  So it is a day of prayer, “humbling”.  It seems early humiliation days were accompanied by fasting and penitence, but later ones seem to have morphed into thanksgiving type of celebrations.  I cannot find out at all why they had one in Bermuda on August 30th, 1864.  It was not yet the end of the epidemic, there were no wars or battles in close proximity, it is not a current national holiday  – could it have been a late recognition of Emancipation Day which is more commonly held at the beginning of August?

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That yellow thing on the rocks looks rather like a Minion

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Lovers Lake

Lovers Lake is further along the trail, a land-locked brackish pond some 400 by 200 feet.  It is fed by subterranean channels from the ocean and so the level of saltiness is variable.  Despite the low oxygen content of the water there is here a specific, and protected, species of Killifish found only in this pond – Fundulus relicts.  

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Railway Trail

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The lime kiln is very overgrown

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Please can someone name this flower? A bit like buttercup?

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In case you cannot recall your O level chemistry

A view of Whalebone Bay as we walk back to the car.

A view of Whalebone Bay as we walk back to the car.

So that was last week. Tomorrow we are heading out to Dockyard, the west end of the island. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Tipu’s Tiger

Tipu's Tiger

Tipu’s Tiger

Once upon a time in Southern India there lived a Sultan of Mysore. His name was Tipu.

Tipu had two passions – he hated the British, quite reasonable since at the time they were  trying their best to annexe parts of India for themselves, and he adored Tigers:  he kept Tigers as pets, decorated his home with pictures of tigers, made his soldiers wear uniforms adorned with tiger symbols, had his cannons shaped like sitting tigers and his weapons decorated with golden tiger motifs. Sultan Tipu saw himself as the Royal Tiger of Mysore, defending his province against the British.

In the Mysore Wars, there were 4 of them, the East India Company, representing the British, fought against Tipu, at the same time as Mysore was being attacked from the North by armies from Madras. Tipu’s sons were taken as hostages and Tipu was forced to sign a treaty with the East India Company.  He didn’t actually get his sons back at this point, they were used as pawns to make sure he kept to his side of the treaty.  Tipu was humiliated and angry.  He ordered that houses in the capital city Senngapatam, were painted with scenes of tigers mauling Europeans.

In 1793 the news reported that the son of the British General Sir Hector Munro was carried off by an “immense riyal tiger four and a half feet high and nine long” .  Tipu, the Sultan of Mysore, celebrated the event with the construction of a life-sized model of carved and painted wood in which a mechanical pipe organ replicated both the growls of the tiger and the moans of the soldier victim.  This is Tipu’s Tiger.

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Why am I telling you this story?

For a while we owned our own version of Tipu’s Tiger – a simply carved, folk-art style model.  We found it at a craft fair on the island, a little battered, quite strange amongst the pastel water colours, cedar pens and sea glass jewellery.  At the time we knew nothing of Tipu, but somewhere deep in memory was a fleeting glimpse from childhood visits to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where the actual Tiger sits now.  We never learned the history of our own model, few clues came with it.

But as our Bermuda adventure is coming to an end (more about that later) I have been making tough decisions and some things will not be shipped back to England. This one was on and off the packing list for several days, finally finding for itself a new home on the island with someone who tells me she has a collection of folk art. I found it hard to part with.

The actual Tipu’s Tiger was shipped to London when Sultan Tipu of Mysore died in 1799.  He would have hated that.

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eMoo

This last week I have enriched my experience of Bermuda by selling some things on eMoo. It has not all been smooth sailing!
For the non-islanders, eMoo is a bit like Gumtree, local services, real estate and classified ads. Self-described as “your family friendly online community”.
For more than two years I have received daily emails from eMoo and window-shopped from the classifieds, never brave enough to make the call to buy anything.
We had a major clear out last weekend and, my impulsive nature surfacing, I decided to see if some things would sell.

eMoo (why a cow?)
First I had to remember my login details, drs? Gbm? After trying dozens of possible password permutations (hereafter known as ‘ppp’s) I gave up and re-registered with a different email address – so now I get two emails from eMoo at 5am every morning. My eMoo home page now has an extra heading of “My Stuff” that is fast being populated with a list of things I don’t need.

Unlike eBay, items reside in an “unapproved, unreleased” section overnight and are approved and released in the early hours of the morning. I wonder, do they employ someone to work from midnight to review all of these unwanted things or is it an automated computer program? Whichever, the process happens quietly behind the scenes until at 6:18 am someone who cannot wait until the sun rises phones me desperately wanting to buy the pile of T-towels or the carry-on-luggage bag ….. I would rather sell them the clock so they can understand that 6am is actually the middle of the night for some people 😠

Please note, I am anonymising to protect the identity of my buyers – of course I am not selling my T-towels, not yet anyhow.

My first sale was a huge success – advert, phone call, arrangements, pick-up all within two hours; result: two happy people on Bermuda. Inspired, I listed another five items and prepared for the emails and phone calls. Nothing! I checked my internet connection, charged my phone again and probably appeared quite pathetic as I repeatedly pulled up “My Stuff” to watch the count of views – this must be what fishing is like.

Day 3 of this experience had a good start, a few more items to good homes and I am once more feeling that therapeutic thrill of downsizing belongings.

My home is pretty hard to find – one poor chap ended up the other side of Harrington Sound completely, before I had learned a more precise wording of directions – sorry.
So I have chosen the option of ‘meet in town’ for some articles, the smaller ones at least: no I will not meet you in town with my queen-sized bed. Only once has this delivery option failed me, though I confess if I had taken my map in the car with me I would not have tried to deliver to a random householder the unexpected gift of some cooking pots.

The Bermudian sense of time has come into play – “be there in an hour” actually needs the extra words “might” and “or four hours”. There have been no-shows for collection but it is easy enough to re-list an item and there are no listing fees for the standard ads.
Actually listing is fairly straightforward once you realise that the first uploaded image will be inverted so you post a picture of an upside-down floor lamp and take several photos rotating the camera in the hopes that maybe one will work. I found it easier to use a desktop computer for listing as the iPad struggled with the online listing form and I was entering my phone number as the price, which would be a little steep.😯

Talking of prices, I am not aiming to make money, it is just a different way to recycle things. There are two charity shops that I know of on the island and both have benefitted from my impulsive purchasing that spends a few months in the closet before moving to a charity box (do you think I have a shopping addiction? Surely not? ) but eMoo has been a fun alternative. And if you take a look today, there are several items that I am selling that I am sure you need!  😉

Richard Norwood, Surveyor of Bermuda in the 17th Century

Bermuda: town planning of the 17th century

Bermuda: town planning of the 17th century

School geography lessons taught me the basis of English town development: growing outwards from a small crossroads, extending along rivers, canals and railways, concentric circles becoming more residential as they expand away from an industrial centre.

Bermuda developed along very different lines.  Although it began in the 17th century the island urban geography was as planned and deliberate as Milton Keynes. If you don’t know Milton Keynes, it is a grid of roundabouts connected by identical sections of dual carriageway, designed in the 1970s. So Bermuda is essentially a long road from end to end with “tribe” roads coming off in perpendicular fashion.

For this design we have to thank one Richard Norwood, a 17th century opportunist who happened to be on Bermuda in 1616 when Captain Tucker was wanting someone to do a survey of the island.  Norwood negotiated a fee of 2lbs tobacco or 5d per share.  There were 400 shares in the Bermuda stock.  At 12d per shilling, 20 shillings per pound, this amounts to £8 and 6 shillings.  Or about £800 ($530) of 2015 purchasing power.

At the age of 49, Richard Norwood wrote a journal.  This came to light in 1945 and was transcribed by the Historical Monuments Trust.

Text of Norwood's journal.

Text of Norwood’s journal.

Looking at the scrawled page – apparently typical of Elizabethan secretary script – this cannot have been an easy task.  That and some unfamiliar spelling:

  • turkell = turtle
  • rowle = roll
  • pilloberes = pillowcases
  • cushings = cushions
  • cokernuts = coconuts
  • puter = pewter
  • horeglase = hourglass
  • trinilts = tree nails
  • secticles = spectacles
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From “The Journal” (thanks to Wesley Craven and Walter Hayward and Bermuda National Library)

The focus of the journal is spiritual castigation, but from within the “catalogue of sins” we catch glimpses of the 17th century Bermuda.

Richard Norwood was forced to finish his formal schooling at the age of 12, when a fellow schoolboy with the memorable name of Adolphus Speed, won the only scholarship by a small margin.

He became apprenticed to a fishmonger in Stony Stratford.  this little town is quite close to my UK home and today is a charming place, but Norwood described it as

“much given to deboistness, to swaggering, brawling and fighting, to swearing and drunkenness” 

Whether dislike of the town or of the fish, he left his job somewhat abruptly at the age of 15 and served a short prison sentence for failing to honour his apprenticeship.

Thereafter he found work in the docks at Lymington and gained some fame when he fashioned a primitive diving bell from a hogshead barrel and used it to recover a large ship’s gun that had been accidentally dropped overboard into the harbour.  His innovation came to the attention of the Bermuda Company.  the adventurers commissioned him as a technical specialist for “there was a great store of pearls in the Summer Islands” or so it was thought.

After a 5 week voyage during which Norwood studied maths, navigation and religion, the ship stuck fast on the rocks.  The enforced 2 weeks on the offshore reef were enough for the conclusion that there were no pearls to be found.  So for the next year, 1614 or thereabouts, Norwood found himself at a loose end on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

He cannot have had much respect for authority , for he ignored Governor Moore’s restrictions that nobody should venture beyond Burnt Point, some 3 miles from the town of St George and built himself a boat from a hollowed tree with logs aside to balance it (basically a trimaran) and sailed 16 miles from Longbird Island to Somerset, where he gathered palmetto berries.

Governor Moore gave way to Captain Tucker and in 1616 Norwood began his island survey.

His journal describes how he began first in Bedford Tribe, which is now Hamilton Parish.  In order, he surveyed Smiths, Devonshire, Pembroke. But then a geographical leap across to Somerset was prompted by the need to plant the season’s crops away from a “plague of rats” brought to the mainland by Spanish ships. Reverting to order, Paget, Mansill’s (Warwick) and finally Southampton to discover an ‘Overplus’ of excess land between the westernmost parishes.  St George’s was not divided into tracts, it was maintained as an administrative parish.

The division of land

At this time Bermuda had a population of 600 people.  It had now been divided into 8 parishes, each of 50 shares of 25 acres per share.  each share had a stretch of coastline and a plot inland.  The land was allocated to the Adventurers according to the size of their investments.

During this time Norwood claimed to have read the Old Testament 5 times and the New Testament, 10.  Whilst this seems an honourable thing to do, it also sounds boring. I am reminded to be grateful for my Kindle.

A week in Bermuda: the perfect holiday!

An itinerary for visitors:

Having had a series of visitors during this last year I realised that the itinerary we used for them might be of interest to others. So here it is:

Day 1: Meet at airport, drive to home (or hotel) and sit in garden with cool drinks, listen to tree frogs and wait for the sunset. If your visitors have come from UK then keep them awake until past 9pm – they will still wake early but won’t be asking for breakfast at 4am the next day. The BA flight arrives around supper time but the passengers are very well fed generally, +/- wine, so I have discovered the best solution to “do we have supper?” is a bacon roll with a glass of wine. If you are island visitors staying in a hotel then perhaps a bowl of Fish Chowder – practically every restaurant/eating place serves this.

On the water.

On the water.

Day 2: This might depend on which day of the week it happens to be, so the days are interchangeable with the basic premise of “just one big thing each day”. So this day is a Kayak paddle with snorkelling. It does help if you have your own kayak and water access but even if not there are plenty of places to hire kayaks. We are lucky enough to have water access into Harrington Sound so we paddled across to Trunk Island and swam around the shallow waters there, good site for the snorkel-naive to practise.

Experiments with GoPro (image with permission from SL)

If based at the West End then Mangrove Bay and the islands around there would work just as well. For our last visitors we did a picnic lunch and took them into Hamilton for dinner. This coincided with Harbour Night, gombeys and craft stalls along Front Street. At the moment Harbour Night is only during the peak summer months, but I did see a news article that it might be extended later into the Autumn or that the Winter tourist program might have a similar event on a regular basis. Gombeys are amazing so if you don’t catch them at Harbour night look out for the Saturdays in the Park at Queen Elizabeth Park (Par-la-ville) or if it’s winter then Tuesday’s at Pier 6 along Front Street.
For dinner my recommendation is Angelo’s in the Walker Arcade, good menu, pleasant ambience and always tasty food. Of course that depends on your budget, but I am assuming you don’t wish to take out a mortgage to fund your island holiday.

Image with permission from SL.

Image with permission from SL.

Day 3: Start with a Jetski adventure. See previous post for suggestions. This was probably my son’s favourite activity, the girls on the other hand were “glad we have done it but never again” – with varying degrees of tremor when they finished! Substitutions for this would be a Wildcat Round the Island tour or one of the Boat trips around the Great Sound.
After the Jetski we visited the small Hayden Chapel, with a bottle of water and half an hour to watch the view or read a book. If you are closer to the East End then this would be a brief visit to Tucker House in St George or to Carter House on St David’s Island.
For lunch we visited the Southampton Princess Hotel – their Pulled Pork Tacos are delicious and I recommend the strawberry lemonade. I understand the cocktails here are also good, but I was driving 😟

The afternoon is for one or more of the South Shore beaches.

Image by SL

Image by SL

Day 4: In the morning visit Miles Market to pick up a picnic lunch then hire a Boston Whaler from Grotto Bay for the afternoon – 1-5pm, very reasonable cost at $140 plus fuel. Remember sun lotion, hats, snorkels and water.
If you wish to have a slightly bigger boat I would suggest St George, Mangrove Bay or Somerset. The advantage of doing this in Castle Harbour is the wreck off Nonsuch Island and the almost deserted beach that is only accessible by boat. Round this off with a drink at the bar at Grotto Bay or Swizzle Inn, then supper at home. I chose not to cook so a take-out from East meets West solved that issue.

Day 5: Dockyard, Glass-bottom boat, Mini-golf with a drive back via the sea-glass beach. To be honest the glass bottom part of the boat trip is the hook to get you on the boat, you don’t actually see that much under the boat, but what you do get is a gentle chug out to the Wreck of the Vixen, a feeding frenzy of bream, chub and snapper and maybe a few turtles on the way. Oh, and a rum swizzle! This is very reasonably priced at $45 per person and the tour guides are great. We were on a boat piloted by the youngest Captain on the island who started driving boats at the age of 4 – he is a little older than that now!
Don’t like mini-golf? What’s not to like – our very sceptical visitor was a convert after the first six holes, or was that just because each set of six ended up at the bar?

Turtle

Turtle

Day 6: Tobacco Bay for an early snorkel – before 10:30 the visibility is best as after that people kick up sand and you have to go further out in order to see the big fish. Then take a walk to the end of the little promontory with a can of drink and sit watching the parrot fish around the rock towers. That brings you to around midday for lunch at Blackbeards Restaurant, just around the corner overlooking Achilles Bay. I would highly recommend the scallops wrapped in bacon. Sun cream and hat are vital here if you want to sit and look out at the sea while you eat.

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Replete with lunch you take a drive to St David’s Island for a gentle walk along Cooper’s Island nature reserve. The second and third beach along from Clearwater Bay are just amazing, white sand, unspoilt, turquoise sea, everything that’s good about Bermuda.

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Then to cap this day off I suggest a Sunset Cruise. Our last visitors went with AnaLuna Adventures and they asked me to give the company five stars in the TripAdviser Review – they sailed to Flatts Inlet, swam around the island there and then off into the sunset with champagne. Idyllic.

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Day 7: This is where you have some choices to make : shopping in Hamilton, any of the museums, a wander in the Botanic Gardens or perhaps a walk along the railway trail at Baileys Bay. It is your last evening so a meal out perhaps? We enjoyed a relaxed meal at La Trattoria, good choice on their menu, and attentive wait staff (my husband suggested that was down to having two beautiful young ladies with us, but whatever, they were fun).

Day 8: A brief trip to the Zoo/Aquarium (it still isn’t fully open yet but at least what they have done is looking very good, much better displays than previously) and then drive into St George for the Ducking Stool at 12:30. Note this doesn’t happen on Friday or Sunday so you may need to shift days around. It was pouring with rain when we went this week, but the Town Crier announced that he wouldn’t let a bit of rain prevent the wench from getting what she deserved! So we all got soaked in one way or another.
End the week with a bacon butty and glass of wine looking out across the water.

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Prescription: Seven day course of treatment. Repeat often, prn (when required) with food and wine.

Four-legged friends: dogs on Bermuda

The first dog was landed on Bermuda in 1609, and was probably a Spaniel called “Finder” or “Salty”: the ship’s dog of the Sea Venture. I don’t actually know the name, those are guesses based on the fact that medieval dogs were frequently named on characteristics. Ship’s dogs were used for retrieving things lost overboard, taking messages between ships, and hunting when ashore. Most definitely working dogs. The main need for a working dog on Bermuda in 2015 would probably be a drug-sniffing dog at the airport – they did have one when we first arrived but I haven’t seen him since. Neither have I seen any Guide Dogs for blind persons. But there are plenty of dogs on the island, most living quiet and happy lives, but some reaching headlines every now and then.

So what do you do if you want a dog on Bermuda?

Two websites might be sensible starting points:

Bermuda SPCA: http://www.spca.bm

Government regulations on animals: http://www.animals.gov.bm/portal/server.pt

If you are coming to live on the island and already own a dog then you will need an import certificate, a microchip and vaccinations.

The import certificate must be dated no earlier than 10 days before landing your dog and to get this document you will need a health certificate for the dog, original vaccination certificates and evidence of tick and flea treatment on the day of examination. There are no quarantine regulations, but certain countries of origin require a minimum of two rabies vaccines and certificates to confirm no contact with foot and mouth within previous 30 days. The government website suggests that dogs less than 10 months old do not qualify for entry onto Bermuda, but it is unclear whether this applies to dogs from UK.

Dogs and cats are subject to import customs duties: 25% plus a 1.1% wharfage fee. Now this is based on the value of the dog so you will need original evidence of the purchase of the dog and price paid.

There are dog breeders on the island, however, and there is a pet shop in Hamilton with the most adorable puppies. (For my RSPCA friends I am not advocating buying puppies for pet shops, just commenting on their cuteness). The SPCA have dogs “looking for forever homes” but they also comment that they have a long waiting list for adopting dogs.

However you acquire the dog, it will need a licence which is $25 per year if the dog is neutered but $115 per year if not. Unlicensed dogs may be destroyed.

Like UK, there are certain breeds of dog that are banned on Bermuda. It is far too sensitive an issue for me to venture into but just to state, pit-bull dogs are prohibited and will be dealt with harshly if found unlicensed on the island. In 2012 the newspaper revealed there were 1300 unlicensed pit-bulls on the island – but given these dogs are kept below the radar I have doubts about the validity of the figure.

There are some rules you will need to be aware of:

  • Dogs must be kept on a leash
  • Dogs are not allowed on beaches during Summer months, 1st April to 31st September.
  • Special permits are needed of you have more than 2 dogs on your premises.  Note that “premises” includes other households on the plot and requires the landlords permission. This multi-dog permit is specific to the dogs, owner and the address.
  • There are fines for being found in breach of these rules : $50 for an unleashed dog, $100 for a stray dog and $200 for a noisy barking dog, which requires only one neighbour to make a complaint.

Now I have owned dogs, and numerous other pets alongside the children, but I am not sure dogs are really a good idea on Bermuda, or indeed that Bermuda is best set up for dogs. It can be VERY hot, there aren’t acres of fields and parks for exercise and the dog can never run free. But thats just my opinion and I am sure there are hundreds of responsible dog owners who will work around the particular problems posed by Bermuda-life.

My landlord has an amusing story of his dog being taken to court for chasing ducks across Harrington Sound onto land owned by the Zoo … I cannot tell it like he does, but he had me in stitches of amazed disbelief.

Useful contacts for dog-owners:

Hermione, my first dog

Hermione, my first dog

Five little squid

I think they have seen me

I think they have seen me

These are Caribbean reef squid, or Sepioteuthis sepioidea. The actual size of these ones is about 2cm long and 1cm wide: they are juveniles. Growing at about 0.7mm each day, they reach maturity at around 6 months. Then they tend to go offshore.

Pretend to be big

Trying to look scary

Five little squid

Five little squid

Apparently these squid are generally calm and sociable.  I suppose calmness is an anthropomorphic imagination derived from the fact that they don’t always skitter off when you approach them.

Camouflage

Camouflage

Colour changes are controlled by the nervous system directly affecting chromatophores.  The patterns are not random, they seem to select certain disguises depending on whether they are being friendly, aggressive or even courting.

Looking for a hiding place

Looking for a hiding place

The young squid hide just below the surface of the water, beneath vegetation or, as we found them, under buoys.

Slender file fish

Slender file fish

This little fish was almost invisible until it left one bouy chain in preference for the next one.

Slender file fish

Slender file fish

Monkey island of Bermuda

The Island

One of the islands in Harrington Sound has a controversial history:

Harrington Sound

Harrington Sound

Hall’s Island (Latitude: 32.339167 / Longitude: -64.713056) was, for a short period in the 1970s, home to an experimental group of gibbons. It is indeed a very small island at just 1.5 acres, and at the time was a mix of trees, rocky outcrops and low growing vegetation. Today it looks quite abandoned, no obvious evidence of its previous occupants.

Hall's Island, Harrington Sound, Bermuda

Hall’s Island, Harrington Sound, Bermuda

The controversies

It seems quite reasonable to rent out your island if you are lucky enough to own one, and, as recent news from Nonsuch Island shows, local scientific research is a popular and newsworthy topic. So why was this episode in Bermudian History controversial? My reading suggests that to begin with there were no issues of concern, it was reported in the local news as “research into epilepsy” and gibbons were housed for a while in the zoo so the public could see them. The project was endorsed by local charities, the Governor of Bermuda and several other Bermuda dignitaries.

However, there were concerns over the source of the animals, the nature of the experiments and the conditions on the island.

In 1965 the capture, trade and export of gibbons was banned in Thailand. There is no proof that these gibbons came from Thailand but a 1971 memo from one of the chief investigators to the staff of the Hall’s Island project told them to anticipate the arrival of 20 gibbons from Thailand. (IPPL.org). In the end only 6 came to Bermuda at that time, imported through an intermediary in Canada. At that time Canada had no legislation to control trade in rare animals, only a health permit for the transported animals was needed. It was not until 1973 that US ratified the Convention of Trade in Endangered Species. Prior to this time the method of capture of these gibbons was to kill the mother and export the infant. In a species with a family-based social structure this seems particularly cruel.

The experiments were not about epilepsy. The initial documents stated the purpose of the research was to observe gibbon behaviour in open field situations.

Proposed research title

Proposed research title

What was not made clear to either public or any scientific research boards, was that half of the gibbons had stimulating devices implanted into their brains and that one line of research was to “induce lasting modifications of free-ranging behaviour by means of long term stimulation of the brain”. One of the researchers subsequently wrote a book entitled “Physical Control of the mind; towards a psychocivilised society”. This book is available today, if you have $150 to spare, but the reviews include words “appalling” and “disturbing” – Delgado also experimented on humans.

The death rates among the Hall Island gibbons were high – of the first ten subjects, 2 died in the first 3 months and a further 3 in the next nine months and one was “sacrificed due to aberrant behaviour”. It was at this point that 4 “spare” gibbons were kept in outdoor cages at the Bermuda Aquarium.

Extract from Royal Gazette

Extract from Royal Gazette

In 1971 one gibbon drowned, one was found with unexplained head injuries and a third died following a bee sting. The scientists’ explanation for the high death rates was that radio frequencies for equipment at the military airport were affecting the brain stimulating equipment. However, two of the technicians involved in the studies reported that the gibbons were left alone for long periods, that the observations entailed a mere 6 days during 1970 and that they were not supplied with sufficient nutritious foods. They suggested in their report that the funds for the research were misspent on an expensive boat with water skis. Clearly boats were necessary to reach the island, but water skis?

But for the most part these concerns did not reach the public or the Bermudian government. A few years later they were well covered in newsletters of the International Primate Protection League.

One of the Lar gibbons pictured on Hall's Island by Esser, 1971

One of the Lar gibbons pictured on Hall’s Island by Esser, 1971

The Gibbons

Lar gibbons are apes from SW China and Thailand who live in trees. They live in families, male and female parents with young who are expected to leave home when they mature. They spend much of their daytime hours in trees and sleep in trees, choosing tall trees near cliff edges. They are territorial, with one troop holding sway over some 30-100 acres. Given that, it is hard to understand quite why such a small island was considered a suitable home for them.

Gibbons on the island, 1973

Gibbons on the island, 1973

1973carpenter1

Image from CR Carpenter’s short film on Gibbon Behaviour, 1973

Field studies of gibbons predate those of other apes, with a seminal paper written on them in 1940, by CR Carpenter, one of the Hall’s Island researchers. The 1970s were busy years for the study of animal behaviour – do you recall the book “Manwatching” by Desmond Morris? Gibbons are more closely related to man than other apes and because they are small with relatively short generational gaps then they were considered a suitable substitute for experimenting on man. But in the wild they spend most of their lives high up in tree and they eat fresh fruit – on Hall’s Island the trees were not exactly tall and the diet was Purina monkey chow.

Gibbons at play, Carpenter 1973

Gibbons at play, Carpenter 1973

The Investigators

In the end some 7 researchers have papers to their name resulting from the Hall Island research. The most prolificly published was Clarence R Carpenter, a Professor of psychology and anthropology at Pennsylvania State University and later University of Georgia. He studied primate behaviour, produced primate films and videotapes, and researched communication processes. Although he was involved in the project, at the time he did express his opinion that there was poor planning and protocols and poor record-keeping. His involvement was limited to observation of the gibbons during the Summer of 1971 and his papers concerned their patterns of walking and their daily activities.

Carpenter did not author papers on the brain stimulation experiments – that was the field of Joseph Delgado, a scientist who had previously left Yale after a dispute regarding his use of human subjects in brain stimulation experiments. It is not clear what his hypotheses were for the Hall’s Island work but he was working alongside a psychiatrist, AH Esser, whose research to that point had been in dominance and utilisation of space in psychiatric patients. Esser worked at Rockland Research Institute, the laboratories attached to Rockland State Mental Hospital, which has been described as a “therapeutic suburb”. However he claimed in the paperwork for the importation of the gibbons that he was doing research for the National Cancer Institute – no papers attributed to him have been published in that field. Esser is apparently still practising psychiatry, though a google search suggests that his license was suspended for malpractice in 2012.

The assistants, Baldwin and Teleki, who exposed the conditions on Hall’s Island, left the study group in 1972 after their request for specific experimental protocols was ignored.  Both continued to study primate behaviour and contribute a substantial body of papers in that field.

The Studies

The Hall’s Island project gets short paragraphs in many current texts on primate behaviour. But you might know that situation where “common papers are cited commonly” and this leads to an overestimation of their scientific worth? Well, that seems to be what occurred here – the actual results of any of the Hall’s island studies can probably be summed up:

  • the gibbons exhibited patterns of semi-vertical trunk orientation in walking and swinging – but without many trees to climb on the island then they really didn’t have much choice
  • play occupied one third of the gibbon waking day
  • they demonstrated complex dominance relationships
  • they may have killed a chicken (one was found with a broken neck – but locals also had access to the island so draw your own conclusions here)
  • one was observed using a leaf to dip for water from a puddle
  • one died of the gibbon-ape-leukaemia-virus, apparently leukaemia is more common in captive gibbons

Were any Bermudian laws breached?

When residents reported hearing screams form Hall’s Island the SPCA investigated but any outcome was not made public. It is an offence on Bermuda to ill-treat or not exercise reasonable care in looking after animals but there are no regulations concerning scientific experimental research on Bermuda that I could find, certainly none appertaining to 1970s.

Comment

The whole episode took place at a time when, in US, there was a post-war federal funding commitment to civilian science. The field of psychiatry was looking for means of behavioural control at a time when locking people away in asylums was facing heavy criticism. Respected scientists were studying primate behaviour and the papers published in this area were increasing exponentially. It was an expanding field, scientists wanted to do research on the edges of conventional science and in Harrington Sound, on Bermuda there was an island for rent. It was opportunistic, if retrospectively controversial.

Lucy Harington of Harrington Sound

What’s in a name? One ‘r’ or two?

I plan on reading a book entitled “The Noble Assassin”, historical fiction about Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford. But I wanted to find out some of the facts about this lady before the novel inserts itself in my understanding as “this is actually what happened”.

Despite the spelling variation, Harrington Sound, the large inland sea-water lake in the middle of Bermuda, was apparently named for this lady.

Harrington Sound, Redshank island

Harrington Sound, Redshank island

Poets (John Donne and Ben Johnson) and musicians seemed to be falling over themselves in their efforts to honour her, dedicate works to her, write poetry to her – she had over 50 works dedicated to her. Why was she so popular?

  • She was well connected – her father was Sir John Harington, Baron of Exton. This family were said to have the most extensive estates in Rutland in the 16th century. Rutland? It’s a tiny county almost as small as Bermuda in the east midlands, UK.
  • She clearly came from a wealthy family, though some sources suggest her father and brother made huge losses and she inherited debts. She did however have sufficient to buy both Twickenham Park and Moor Park estates. There she became an amateur gardener – a 17th century Charlie Dimmock (you might have to be British to know her – a TV gardener).
  • And she was intelligent – home schooling resulted in fluency in French and Italian and she was knowledgable about classical art and poetry.
  • One author described her as “a fit companion for men” but we need to allow that in 1949 he might not have intended what this could mean today.
  • She performed in court masques, as a Lady of the Bedchamber for Queen Anna of Denmark she would join the other court ladies in these extravagant performances. For one, Masque of Blackness, the ladies all used body paint to blacken their faces and arms, which was actually quite controversial even then. She had speaking parts in some of the dramas and helped with directing others – clearly not just backdrop material.
  • But she wasn’t exactly “available” having been married from the age of 13 to Edward Russell, 3rd Earl of Bedford. He made some poor decisions and spent some years in prison and under house arrest after supporting the “wrong-would-be-monarch” but his fortunes picked up somewhat when King James came to the throne. It appears that he was happy to permit his wife an active life at court in her own right.
  • She may have been considered beautiful, though the few portraits that exist don’t really confirm this, but maybe it was like early photographs, smiling was considered inappropriate.
Lucy Harington

Lucy Harington from National Portrait Gallery (online digital)

It seems she never actually set foot in Bermuda, but as a wealthy lady investing in the adventurous Virginia Company she was one of the original shareholders and thus land owners of the island. She was the only woman among the 117 original investors in The Somers Isles Company that was granted a charter to control Bermuda in 1616.

One of the local websites encouraging tourists here states that Lucy Harington “did a lot for the parish”, immediately triggering an image of a parish fete with stalls of home-made jam; but I don’t think she actually DID anything for the parish of Hamilton and probably was only vaguely aware she had a large body of water named after her. After all, which would you prefer, a poem written for you or a salty mid-Atlantic lake that in all likelihood you would never get to see?

Early Bermuda Map showing Harington Sound (image Wikipedia)

Early Bermuda Map showing Harington Sound (image Wikipedia)

So why the spelling mistake? In one of the earliest maps of the island they do have the name spelled with just one “r” but modern spelling has morphed to Harrington. I don’t think it is of major importance, after all the Harington family descended from the earlier Haveringtons by a series of typographical variations.

Amazing – Harrington Sound has a Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/pages/Harrington-Sound/135689173130265
Admittedly the person posting most on there seems to be me, and I didn’t even know it existed! How do these pages just appear? Oh well, maybe I will end up “doing a lot for the parish” just like Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford (1581-1627)

Sunrise over Harrington Sound

Sunrise over Harrington Sound

Snorkelling Bermuda

Snorkel Bermuda

Sergeant Major

Sergeant Major

This is my opinion, based on just two years of snorkelling on the island. Before I came out here I had never snorkelled and the first time I tried I was a panicky-pink-puffing flounder barely able to keep my head down for thirty seconds. I am glad I persevered, however and now, if I were in a position to write a CV, snorkelling would make the “Interests and Activities” section!

Which Kit

As with any hobby I undertake, I enjoy buying the kit – yes, some hobbies never progress beyond this stage. I began with a combination mask-snorkel-flipper pack acquired for what then seemed an extortionate price from a local DIY-type store. I still have that set but more as an emergency or visitor option.

I have learned a few things:

  • Snorkels come in so many varieties, but I prefer a “dry” type with a valve or ball of some sort at the top end to prevent water getting down the tube. I do have one with just a splash guard, but the main reason it is still in use is for the comfort of the mouthpiece, not the keep-water-out facet.
  • The purge valve at the bottom is usually the first feature to stop working – this is where I wished I had rinsed the snorkels after use EVERY time.
  • Mouth pieces come in different shapes and sizes and it is only after half an hour or so you know if you like it – one I have has a large effective shield that sits in front of the teeth but my jaw aches after using it, I think because the grips that go between the upper and lower teeth are just too big.
  • My current favourite snorkel/mask is the Easy breathe, but even this is not perfect (see below).
Practice with Easybreathe mask

Practice with Easybreathe mask

  • The mask needs to fit well under the nose, if too long for your philtrum (the part between nose and lip) then the mask allows water in when you wiggle your nose. Think you won’t wiggle your nose? Well I did warn you.
  • See-through for me is better than black, but this is personal (black ones remind me of the anaesthetics I had as a child to remove teeth), black ones are said to reduce the glare of the water and they often are made of softer silicone.
  • Flippers mean you can cover longer distances but need practice, and my husband keeps telling me I am not using them correctly!

The Easybreath: We bought two of these just last week, a cross between the Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader, I anticipate ridicule when I venture beyond the confines of Harrington Sound. I would award them 4/5 stars – brilliant for wide angle of view, ability to breathe normally through nose, no fogging, no water on face, but less good for going down in the water, and build quality (one of ours has a sticky float ball and the other seems to have lost its float ball altogether, probably when I put it together). On balance I am continuing to use this as my preferred snorkel, even without the float ball the top acts as a splash guard, but I may not use it when out in the waves.

Easybreathe in action

Easybreathe in action

Dry snorkels: This is one of the better websites when it comes to explaining the differences between their models. They are also a tad more expensive. The top ultra dry model is my second favourite snorkel, based on function, not just because it came in pink, honest!
Choosing a snorkel depends on whether you want to keep to the surface or dive down, how much luggage space you have, and budget. When I started to learn the clarinet in school I was given a cheap instrument of dubious quality and because it was so hard to get a decent sound I never ever enjoyed myself – sometimes beginners need the better kit or they never progress any further.

Which Place

My first snorkel experience was at Tobacco Bay. This is on the Eastern end, St George’s island, and presents a sheltered gently sloping sandy cove surrounded by photogenic rocks. It is pretty much perfect for snorkelling and we have taken our visitors here for snorkel training sessions.

Even here however, on a windy day the sea can be choppy and the sea floor drops away quite dramatically once outside the shelter of the closest rocks.
http://tobaccobay.bm

Tobacco Bay

Tobacco Bay

Perhaps my favourite coastal snorkel site is Whalebone Bay, further to the western end of St George’s island. You can pretty much guarantee privacy here as it seems even the locals don’t come here that often. Partially protected by a large rocky formation that sits in the mouth of the bay, there are superb examples of sea fans here. You might be put off by initial appearances – the beach is small with slippery rocks as the shallow water extends for some 30 feet, but walk carefully over this part and the rewards are quickly apparent, a variety of fish without too much swell from the sea. But there are no facilities, toilets having blown down in the hurricane – we used the old fashioned “change under a towel” method.
http://bm.geoview.info/whalebone_bay,3572963

Whalebone Bay

Whalebone Bay

Shelly Bay is listed on tourist sites as suitable for children and swimming as it is shallow for a long way out. The snorkelling her is best along the sides of the bay and just around the corner at the right hand end. Facilities are going to be redeveloped so it might become more popular for novice snorkellers . http://bm.geoview.info/shelly_bay,3573039

Shelly Bay

Shelly Bay

Church Bay is along the south shore and every guide book describes it as “the” place to go for snorkelling. So we did … and rather quickly came back again. Yes there is good snorkelling here, but also waves and personally I was swept about too much to be able to fix on any fish, even if I had been confident that I wouldn’t become the next Bermuda shipwreck all by myself. The advantages of the south shore are the proximity of the reef and sandy beaches. I was too inexperienced to get to an enjoyment stage here, so maybe this is one I will report back on after another year of snorkelling. http://www.bermuda4u.com/sights/church-bay/

The East end snorkel beach is right at dockyard. I cannot review it as I have only played mini-golf here, not snorkelled. It does however get good reviews on Trip Advisor and if you are coming off a cruise ship or staying in the western end it is probably worth a look. http://www.snorkelparkbeach.com/about-us/beach-and-snorkeling.html
Which Fish

Now you are kitted up and in the right place, what can you expect to see?
Fish – doh!

Fish

Fish

A comprehensive list can be found at http://www.conservation.bm/fish/
But here is a personal tally:

The sergeant major : – these are my favourite fish and are”friendly” in that they will come close and appear inquisitive but I have been “nipped” on a few occasions when they seem unable to distinguish me from food (a mighty large meal). The bite doesn’t hurt, it is more of a surprise.

Bermuda bream are the most common silvery fish around with distinctive black dots just in front of the tail.

Bream

Bream

Blue stripe grunts from 3 to 30 inches; the grunt can actually be heard when they grind their pharyngeal teeth together and the sound is amplified by the swim bladder.

French grunts, more yellow stripes with some at an angle rather than just horizontal, found frequently alongside the blue-striped grunts

Squirrel Fish 

 Honeycomb cowfish

Cow fish

Cow fish

 Barracuda

Bermuda chub
Four eye butterfly fish

Some fish I have seen in the aquarium but am not sure if I have actually seen them in the wild and these include the “Doctor fish”
The Latin name Acanthurus chirurgus, means thorny tailed surgeon!

If you snorkel late in the day you might see grey snapper fish. Young ones may have a pigmented stripe diagonally across the eye and i was told on the glass bottom boat cruise that this meant they were “in season” or fertile, but a google search suggests that it merely indicates a juvenile fish.
Parrot fish are for me the most exciting to see, perhaps because they are so large and come into shallow waters. In Harrington Sound we have seen both blue parrot fish and rainbow parrot fish, mostly small ones, for the larger ones you need to go to the outer coastline, Tobacco Bay and Whalebone Bay.

Each time I go out I see something different – last week we came across two large Spotted Sea Hares 
And yesterday we found what we think was a File fish – warning: post-snorkel fish identification can be a source of spousal disagreement – anyhow, we didn’t have the camera with us so that is one that got away.

IMG_0350

Blue stripe grunt

And Non-fish

Beware the Fire Sponge:  It really really hurst when you touch this. But it does warn you – it is bright red after all.

Fire sponge, bottom left

Fire sponge, bottom left

Fire Coral also hurts lots and is more deviously coloured in an innocent yellow, but not one to get up close with!

Giant anemone

Shallow water starlet coral,

Ubiquitous are petticoat algae, turtle grass and the merman’s shaving brush. 

Bermuda snorkelling is not the same as Caribbean or Pacific islands – the fish may be less brightly coloured and the coral more limited in species, but I would recommend it just for the relaxation element. Half an hour floating in warm water listening to bubbles and water while watching fish – in a spa they would charge the earth for this, and they probably aren’t real fish.

Conch

Conch

Longtails

Phaethon lepturus catesbyi

Bermuda Longtail  (image: HCL)

Bermuda Longtail
(image: HCL)

Long tails are everywhere this month and my daughter has taken some pretty amazing photos so it seemed apposite to write a post about them.

The full latin name is Phaethon lepturus catesbyi

Phaethon was the son of the Helios and Klimene who kept pestering his father to be allowed to drive the chariot of the sun, but when the sun god finally gave in predictably the young demigod lost control of the vehicle and thus set fire to the plains of Africa – there is a lesson there somewhere, one I certainly took a long time to learn (penknife to 10 year old son? hamsters as pets?) but at least my mistakes didn’t set the earth on fire.

lepturus, although a Latin word here, comes from the Greek meaning “thin tail”

Mark Catesby was an English naturalist who, in 1722, travelled to Virginia and the Caribbean to study the wild life.  He was sponsored by the Royal Society of London and paid an annual salary of £20, which was pretty generous in those days especially as he stayed with his sister who lived in Virginia so didn’t have to fund his own board and lodging.  He was one of the first academics to describe bird migration and in 1747 he published a book “Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahamas” in which appears the following plate of a long tail:

Catesby's engraving of a Longtail bird (image from eBay, source unknown)

Catesby’s engraving of a Longtail bird (image from eBay, source unknown)

The original plates and preparatory drawings are apparently held in Windsor Castle Library.

Catesby's description of a long tail tropic bird

Catesby’s description of a long tail tropic bird

The common name for them is “white-tailed tropic bird” and they are different from but related to the red-tailed and red-billed versions of the tropic bird.  Some sources claim there are just three species but a recent survey in Australia suggests some inter-species breeding and birds with mixed features.

You can, I presume, work out how to recognise them – they have long tails! These are two very long feathers trailing out behind the bird, used in the aerial courtship displays.  Juvenile birds don’t have them, but after two years at sea they return to their breeding place with impressive long tails of their own.

Longtail at Horseshoe Bay (image: HCL)

Longtail at Horseshoe Bay (image: HCL)

The nests are holes in the cliffs, some pretty close to the ground or sea level and the egg is laid on bare ground, the parent birds don’t actually make a nest as such. The single egg, a beige colour with purplish and reddish blotches, is incubated by either parent for 40-42 days and hatches in June or July.  Juveniles have yellow bills and less distinct black markings and they are fed, again by both parents, on baby squid and small fish. I actually saw 5 tiny baby squid a week ago when snorkelling and was looking for them yesterday but now I realise they have probably been eaten as we have several pairs of nesting long tails on the islands in Harrington Sound.

A long tail bird in a nest (image:HCL)

A long tail bird in a nest (image:HCL)

After around 65 days the young bird will fledge, taking off from the rock face it is a “fly or float” experience – most succeed but every year the local zoo takes in some birds who have failed to reach take-off velocity, returning them to the wild once they have learned the basics.  Then they don’t return for the next two years, they fly for the most part all the time and even sleep on the wing.

Taking flight (image:HCL)

Taking flight (image:HCL)

The markings include a black surround to the eyes which is nature’s equivalent to sunglasses, reducing the glare an reflection from the water so they can see the fish more easily.  They do plunge into the surface waters to catch fish but often pick out small fish as they break the surface of the water – flying fish.

The wings from the top have a black V-shaped marking and the wing tips are also black.

Bermuda Longtail (image:HCL)

Bermuda Longtail (image:HCL)

The pictures I have are all probably adult birds since they have reddish beaks and the youngsters have yellow beaks.

Historically they were named the “Bosun bird” because their call is akin to the bosun’s whistle.  Wikipedia describes the call: keee-keee-krrrt-krrt-krrt .  I hope you got that – don’t get the spelling wrong the extra r in the third word is most important! I can hear them out there this morning, but haven’t yet worked out how to attach a sound recording to the blog.

Sadly they are threatened by erosion of rocks, predators such as rats and cats, flooding and building works. Although protected in Bermuda by the Protection of Birds Act 1975, I am not convinced the act is enforced with any regularity on the island. There could be a conflict of interests – once the unofficial bird of Bermuda, the longtail was ousted from this distinction by the cahow in 2003 and the newer igloos are apparently designed to favour cahows and prevent long tails from nesting in them.  Igloos are man-made nesting boxes that one can install on your coastal property. Our landlord has made special holes in the rock walls alongside the dock and slipway and although I don’t think there are any nesting this year we do try to keep away from them when we are on the water. Personally I think the longtails are prettier birds than the cahows.

This one took me by surprise (image:HCL)

This one took me by surprise (image:HCL)

Not enough stripes for a Sargeant Major

Feeling quite proud of myself for designing my own cross stitch,  I was going to blog about the Sargeant  Major fish – that’s what I used for the design.  So I turn to google and Wikipedia for interesting snippets and find to my embarrassment I have not drawn/stitched enough stripes, so my fish is more of a Corporal then a Sargeant.  

  
These fish are all over the local sea – 5 vertical black stripes with yellow between or occasionally blue-grey colour, which is apparently the brooding male.  Last year we had a solitary one around our local rock, Redshank Island, but this year we have three at least and they have grown to about 4 inches.  

Now this may be considered cheating but when you go snorkelling take some bread with you because these little fish will eat from your hand and follow you about once they know you are feeding them. 

The proper name for them is Abudefduf saxatilis.  They were first named in 1758. I learned today that they have just one nostril either side of their face, unlike the related angel fish which have two – can’t say I have noticed, but I guess I hadn’t actually realised that fish had nostrils in any case ( clearly something lacking with my biology education, but it might have been that I was not paying attention).  

Late May and early June are the spawning season for these fish – probably so for many of Bermudian fish – it depends on water temperature.  The males turn a bright blue and several females will lay their eggs in the nest that a male has prepared. Incubation period is just 4 days until small larvae hatch out.  These, however, unlike the grown-ups, are very fussy eaters, demanding a particular copepod, a small crustacean, upon which they feed voraciously until day 20 when they begin to resemble the adult fish, just really cute miniature versions of them. 

Now I haven’t told any of my visitors this, but I did see it reported that Sargeant majors sometimes attack and bite – the specifics to the tale were a diver cleaning an aquarium tank and I believe the outcome did not entail loss of limb or life.  

  

Jet ski? 

My visitors returned from their first island jet ski tour: “absolutely awesome”.  A second was not on the itinerary but with that accolade barely an hour elapsed before we were on the phone. There are several operators on Bermuda: KS Watersports, Just Add Water and Somerset Watersports.  Sea Venture Watersports, Snorkel Park Beach, H2O Watersports 

Your choice is then west end or east end – my visitors did one of each and both achieved five stars in their opinion. Maybe quieter from St George compared to Dockyard but they each have their good points – a dive from a rocky outcrop on the first, swim with Bermuda bream on the second – I have to agree, pretty awesome. 

Cost was $125 for a single rider on their own jet ski, $135 for a double/triple. Some of the outlets charge $150 for a double. I am told it is more fun not to share – you can go faster! 

Tour length is between 75 minutes and 90 minutes for the standard tour then some operators offer longer 2 hour tours, though do check because sometimes the longer tour includes fifteen minutes swim of snorkel time so the actual time of high speed thrill is slightly less.  

You can expect 6 jet skis in a single group, but the early ones are likely to be smaller – my visitors had one tour to themselves and shared with just one extra machine on the second so it felt like an extremely personalised experience. We were concerned they might not run if insufficient people booked a session, as happens for some things on the island, but no worries here. 

The machines are different and while I am not going to discuss the minutiae, I would say that bigger is not necessarily better – bigger may be slower and unwieldy, especially if the rider is on the small side.  Sometimes the machines with just a simple “go” throttle are more fun, but that’s just a personal viewpoint.  

You wear swimming gear and buoyancy aids are provided.  You will need to sign a safety waiver and I do suggest holiday insurance to cover Watersports.  

Would I enjoy it? The response from my guests was “who wouldn’t?” Though they eventually concluded that maybe grandma would struggle. You do have to be over 18 and ID is required.  You also need a card number for the damage security – in the unlikely event the jetski is damaged or the rider decides to abscond (we are in the middle of the Atlantic so not recommended! ) 

So no guesses as to what my summer plans include now, but I might need to go to the gym for a few sessions first! 

   
 

Around the islands

Bermuda Islands

Map of Bermuda Islands

Last weekend we joined a Bermuda heritage lecture-on-a-boat as it drifted gently around the Great Sound islands. It was indeed a most pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon and unusually I stayed awake through the whole talk. The speaker was Andrew Bermingham, who has a particular interest in military history and the Boer war – yes Bermuda played a role in the Boer war, though separated by 7,188 miles of Atlantic Ocean.

IMG_1183

The Boer war was a series of battles in Southern Africa from 1880 to 1902 between the British and the Boers, descendants of Dutch colonists. The British and Dutch had been fighting over the Cape Colony for nigh on 100 years. By 1900 the British were running out of space and supplies in the Cape Colony so they shipped several thousand prisoners of war overseas, some 1,100 to Bermuda. They were imprisoned on some of the islands in the Great Sound: Hawkin’s, Burt’s, Hinson’s, Long Island, Port’s, Morgan’s and Tucker’s.

Boers in Bermuda reported by Boston News 1901

This wasn’t the first time the islands had been used to contain people – since the 17th century they had proved useful for quarantine in outbreaks of smallpox and yellow fever.

As the afternoon wore on I began to lose track and could well have believed there were actually 365 separate islands as Anthony Trollope had claimed in 1858.

An old canning factory?

Some of the islands have interesting stories, though I am not sure they are all entirely true.

Burt’s Island aka Skeeter’s / Murderers’/ Moses Island : just over 7 acres and now used for government youth projects.

The eponymous Mrs Burt was in charge of the isolation cottages in the late 18th century. I assume she was off the scene before the next chapter of the island story – in 1879 Edward Skeeters was convicted of murdering his wife and sinking her body attached to an 80lb boulder. The trial was long, with a long adjournment when a juror fell ill and a doctor pronounced him to be “suffering from a disease for which he might at any moment need surgical assistance”. After numerous days where every neighbour and his dog was called upon to testify, the jury took just 20m minutes to reach a verdict of guilty. For the full version (sorry about the spoiler) read it online in the Royal Gazette of 15th April 1879 and the final instalment in the edition of 10th June 1879.

Edward Skeeters

Extract from Royal Gazette, May 1879

There might in fact be a connection between Burt and Skeeters since one Lydia Burt gave evidence at the trial and she stated she was Anna Skeeters’ daughter – this seems to have been by a previous relationship as Edward and Anna Skeeter’s children died in infancy. It is a sad tale with a somewhat vindictive end – Edward Skeeters was sentenced to the death penalty and he was buried on Burt’s Island with an 80lb boulder as his headstone – yes, the same one he had used to sink his wife’s body.

Burying him on this island seems to have set a precedent as several more murderers were interred there during the early twentieth century. Hence the common name “Murderers’ island”. I cannot find any reason for the alternative name “Moses Island” though Moses is not unusual as a surname or first name on Bermuda.

Argus Island:
Yes, I know, it’s bank, not an island – but it was designated as an island for a short period of time during the 1960s. This seamount is some 30 miles SW of the main Bermuda island and in some narratives is called Plantagenet Bank. During the Cold War over $7 million was spent on projects by the US Navy to construct research and defensive laboratories in connection with Project Artemis. The result of Artemis was a marine sonar system to detect submarines at long range. The Argus Island Tower was 192 feet above the sea surface and designed to stand up too waves 70 foot high. However after 8 years the tower was condemned as unsafe and finally demolished in 1976 and Argus lost its Island status.

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Argus Island Tower 1963 (image from Wikipedia)

Agar’s Island:
I am jumping about a bit geographically as this one is situated on the inside curve of the Great Sound on the left as you approach Hamilton. It was named after Sir Anthony Agar one of the investors in the Somers Isle Company of 1630.

Construction_of_British_Army's_magazine_on_Agar's_Island,_Bermuda_in_1870

Powder Magazine on Agar’s Island 1870 (image from Wikipedia)

This island has 3 separate claims to fame – first in the 1880s it was a huge powder magazine and then in 1908 12 large fish tanks were built into the stone moat and opened as the first aquarium on Bermuda. Then in 1914 the silent film “Neptune’s Daughter” was filmed from Agar’s Island – it featured Annette Kellerman and some scenes have her diving into a lagoon pool which actually looks a bit like the one at Blue Hole (warning – would be called skinny dipping these days and I am sure it is not permitted on Bermuda now).

The Great Sound
Don’t panic, I am not going to comment on all the islands! That was covered in a small book by Terry Tucker, appropriately entitled “The Islands of Bermuda” first published in 1970 – there is a copy in the library. She concluded there were some 120 separate islands aside from the 8 principal ones that are today connected by bridges. I began with a boat trip round the Great Sound, but I have spent the best part of the afternoon captivated by one island in Harrington Sound – for that story you will have to wait, I haven’t got to the bottom of it yet and it goes pretty deep!  Then for my relatives who accompanied me on the tour, I am still looking for the history of the single red-roofed building that stands on the skyline! If any reader can tell me why it is red and not white like every other building ….

Dress Codes

Probably everyone has heard of Bermuda Shorts, a regulation 3″ above the knee, the National Dress of Bermuda. The sober colours worn abroad give way to pink and yellow on the island – yes, pink shorts are considered appropriate business attire for a man.  It makes some sense given the climate but why on earth are they paired with knee length socks?

An aside, it is claimed that the shorts became a local fashion after Nathaniel Coxon, a teashop owner on the island during WW1, cut off the bottoms of his khaki trousers and those of his staff after they complained about the heat (obviously not related to the saying “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen”  – or his teashop business would not have lasted very long – restated: “if you can’t stand the heat wear shorts” ).  Thereafter Rear Admiral Mason Berridge adopted the style for his fellow officers – I guess he must have frequented the teashop – and he coined the term “Bermuda Shorts”. Sometime later, Berridge credited Coxon and Coxon was awarded an OBE, (for designing shorts?)

Anyhow, it wasn’t shorts I was going to talk about, I began this morning with some research on nakedness and exposure on the island.  The trigger was driving past a man without a shirt: a most unusual sight. I had heard it was illegal to go topless in public and am sure last year there was a court case involving just this issue.

What I did find was an old picture of a policeman taking rather unusual measurements from a tourist:

Too short?

If the skirt length was considered too short a “Green Ticket” was issued:

May we respectfully suggest that your attire may prove to be embarrassing as there are certain regulations pertaining to propriety of dress that are being enforced in order to maintain Bermuda’s position as a most attractive and pleasant holiday resort.

Bermuda Laws are listed online at the clearly named website – Bermuda Laws Online

Therein I found:

SUMMARY OFFENCES ACT 1926 (1989 revision)
Offences against public morality
11 Any person who, in any public place—

(a) …….

(b) openly exposes his person; or….

which seems to cover it (or not)

And finally, the  tourist charged with being inappropriately dressed: case dismissed by the judge, though he was also charged with using bad language. The judge is recorded as saying:

….. a man not having a shirt on cannot be considered to be improperly dressed these days …. 

which I presume is the end of the matter!  What about a woman?

Island Medical Waste

In todays news is an article describing new procedures for disposal of medical waste. Aha, this is exactly what I need to know –  ever since a relative’s visit a few months ago I have had a jar of “sharps” on the kitchen windowsill, between the hand soap and flowers like an ornament or strange experiment.  I wonder what our cleaner thinks as she moves it each week to wipe the surface underneath.

The new system does not come into force until June – no worries, they have been incubating for a few months, one more won’t make much difference.  I read on, hopeful that there will be a link to connect me to a “this is what you have to do page”  …   8 paragraphs further on and I am none the wiser.  I search under terms “medical waste disposal” and “sharps waste” each with Bermuda as a defining tag, leading to older articles stating that the hospital bio-oxidiser stopped working many months ago and the interim arrangements included renting containers for storage of this waste, distinctly alarming!

In England I worked in practices and hospitals, we had “sharps bins” in bright yellow with scary biohazard symbols and protocols enough to decorate a ballroom.  In one building you even had to keep a list of the “waste-generator” (interesting name for what we usually called patients, but of course the document had been designed by a politically correct admindroid). I would like to tell you what happens on Bermuda, only it appears nobody knows. I looked on the government website, the waste management website, the hospital “portal”, the yellow pages, the pink pages ….  Where else? I can hardly go up to my neighbours to ask “are you a medical-waste-generator?”  – sounds rather intrusive does’t it. But how else am I to learn what I am supposed to do with my sharps?

Some of you will be saying “the relative should have taken them away”  – right, as if it is sensible to carry used needles  in hand luggage, or even permitted? Bring their own sharps box? Have you seen the size of them? Even the travel ones take the space of at least one pair of shoes and if a girl has to choose between shoe space and sharps box then I can pretty much guess what she will opt to pack! Besides, you can guarantee at least one “sharps” will be left behind, in the bathroom, the bedside table, even the washing machine, and then I am back to my original problem – how do I dispose of a small handful of sharps on this island?

Sharps

Sharps

Crawl

Crawl

Crawl

There is an area along North Shore called “Crawl” and I have learned that it is nothing to do with the fact that it is a hill on a bend that means the traffic crawls along slowly.  It is in fact due to the little bay shown above: the crawl.

A crawl is a staked or penned-in area for holding fish.

The etymology is debatable, some sources claiming an origin in Dutch “kraal” used in South Africa in the early 1800s, usually referring to a cattle enclosure. Other dictionaries state it comes from the North American “corral”, again a cattle pen but originating from the Latin “currare” meaning to run. An alternative Latin origin would be “currale” which is apparently an enclosure for vehicles (did the ancient Latin-speaking folks have many vehicles?)

The Urban Dictionary informs that a CRAWL is the noun for a large unified travelling group of Zombies – somehow I don’t think that was what led to the use in Bermuda, not met any Zombies here, guess they find getting a work permit quite hard.

More likely is that the term was imported from Jamaica and the West Indies where a crawl was the name of a hog pen, used in Jamaica from 1660 onwards. A hog crawl was a large circular area with a hut in the centre and at night the crawl-keeper would call the hogs into the central area with a conch (yes, really) and they reportedly spent the night huddled together.  The Dictionary of Jamaican English notes that it can also refer to a staked enclosure in the sea: a CRAWL.  In this case I suppose the fish are first caught and then released into the crawl until wanted for the table, given there were no refrigerators.

In his memorials Governor Lefroy said that Crawl was the name of a large natural lagoon in Hamilton Parish and that it was thus named from as early as 1623.  Apparently smaller enclosures locally known as “fishponds” were cut into the coastline.

The lagoon above was pointed out to me this morning by a friend (as she dragged me along the Railway Trail for a brisk morning walk – not a crawl, please note).  It doesn’t fit with my imagination of Lefroy’s “large natural lagoon” so I remain a little sceptical as to this being the original crawl.  Admittedly it does have closeby a large board saying “Crawl Park”.

So, this afternoon as you crawl up along North Shore Road in the rush hour traffic you may take a left turn just opposite the gas station (gas as in petrol) and a short walk along the grassy track to the Crawl.

Where have all the rabbits gone?

You might think that a news article about a “lost bunny” on Easter Sunday so close to April 1st is a wind-up but it did actually happen and there was a happy ending. It left me wondering:

Why are there no wild rabbits on the island?

An article from “Guinea Pig Today” from 2012 carries the headline

“Feral guinea pigs, rabbits are destroying Bermuda’s ecosystem”

In case you are wondering, no I don’t usually read that website, it came up on a search for “Bermuda rabbits”. I have to say, in my explorations I have not once seen either feral rabbits or guineapigs.

The second link on my search led me to a Facebook page for Bermuda Rabbit Society and, as you can imagine, many cute photos. But I am no closer to discovering why there are no wild rabbits here.

A book entitled “The Naturalist in Bermuda” published in 1859 infers the presence of rabbits on at least one of the islands in the Great Sound:

Extract from The Naturalist on Bermuda, 1859

Extract from The Naturalist on Bermuda, 1859

And in Harrington Sound, our local patch of water, there is indeed an island called Rabbit Island.

We live alongside Green Bay near the bottom left of the map, Rabbit island is the first of the larger islands as you sail or kayak across to the far end of the sound.

We live alongside Green Bay near the bottom left of the map, Rabbit island is the first of the larger islands as you sail or kayak across to the far end of the sound.

Lucy Hollis has blogged a photo of Rabbit Island in 2008
It looks much more overgrown now. We can kayak across there in warmer weather so I will take a camera with me on my next expedition.  The website Bermuda-online claims there are wild rabbits on that island, but I am not convinced – it is pretty rocky and there is no fresh water source. It belongs to the National Trust and is designated a nature reserve so no landing on the island to prove this one way or the other.

If there are wild rabbits then they would have arrived by ship, the same way the rats, hogs and chickens came across. Hogs of course are no longer roaming free, the early settlers ate them. Chickens are everywhere, I guess nobody eats them, they cross the roads at random – don’t ask me why. And my recent experiment at bird-feeding demonstrated the presence of rats, well fed ones. Maybe ships didn’t carry rabbits, I suppose they supply little on the way of meat or tradeable value.

Without foxes, there are no natural predators here to threaten wild rabbits so I would assume if they did exist then there would be an abundance of them. Bermuda grass is apparently a good food for a rabbit and we have plenty of that all over the place:

Bermuda grass

Bermuda grass

IMG_1143

Our own Bermuda grass. The island you can see here is called Redshank Island. Rather like Rabbit Island without rabbits, it does not appear to be home to any redshanks

Any other results from my search “Bermuda rabbits” seem to be for boats or grass suppliers. One strange link goes to an online auction sale for a shirt  with a print described as a Bermuda rabbit, but to me it looks like a frog – maybe I am missing some information here!  So I am none the wiser about wild or feral rabbits on Bermuda and leave the question open, in a slightly altered form, because one or two sites I usually trust for reliable information imply their existence:

Where are the wild rabbits on Bermuda?

One Cahow and lots of not-cahows

Yesterday morning over breakfast I came across the live webcam feed from the Cahow nest on Nonsuch Island.  A comment beneath said that “anytime soon” a chick was expected to hatch.  So for half an hour or so I watched the non-moving-is-it-really-live image and finally gave up to busy myself with housework (the cleaner is due this week).  Of course I missed it, the actual birth, as I learned this morning when I tuned in.  It isn’t the first birth I have missed – at medical school in year 1 we were assigned a pregnant mother with the expectation we would be around for the delivery and subsequent parenting challenges, but my “mother” must have changed her mind about the whole viewing idea, before she met me I hasten to add, and I similarly learned of the new arrival one day too late.  By the end of med school I had seen enough deliveries to be able to hold back the tears, at least to see enough to be able to catch the baby, but I have never seen a Cahow chick hatch and will now probably have to wait until next year. Actually I have never seen a Cahow – thought I did once when a greyish plumpish bird flew across Harrington Sound but then I learned that the adult birds are nocturnal so I had probably just seen a juvenile tern.

Cahow: Image from Bermuda Conservation (creative commons licence)

Cahow: Image from Bermuda Conservation (creative commons licence)

The Cahow is much talked about in local conservation groups, rediscovered sometime in the 1950s after presumed extinction it is now protected to the extent it has its own island where people rarely tread.  According to history when the first people found themselves on Bermuda in 1609 the Cahow was so plentiful as to provide regular suppers for months:

A kinde of webbe-footed Fowle there is, of the bignesse of an English greene Plover, or Sea-Meawe, which all the Summer we saw not, and in the darkest nights of November and December (for in the night they onely feed) they would come forth, but not flye farre from home, and hovering in the ayre, and over the Sea, made a strange hollow and harsh howling. They call it of the cry which it maketh, a Cohow.

The quote comes from William Strachey’s account of the shipwreck in 1609. In 1901 a professor from Yale University questioned the veracity of the species, suggesting a petrel doesn’t actually taste very nice.  David Wingate has written more comprehensively about the cahow and its rediscovery, his knowledge based on breeding and habits of the bird rather than taste!

Being so very short sighted I was never attracted to bird watching – they are mainly black specks in the sky looking as far as I can tell exactly like a small child’s depiction of a bird, a slightly curved v-shape.  But when we sit on our dock in the late afternoon, perhaps feeding the fish, the birds have taken to arriving in hopeful swoops, close enough that even I can see some detail.

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Rather like the flowers in the previous post, I need some help in identifying them.  I do know that none of them are Cahows!

Photos by HCL, taken on a rather grey day over Harrington Sound.

Botanical Gardens

Visitor Centre

Visitor Centre

Spring 2015.

P1120788

A vegetable patch – Bermuda onions on the left.

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Rose

P1120783

I can identify the bee, but am not confident in naming the flower – answers on a postcard please.

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Red Cardinal

P1120748

Auditioning for the role of Jane?

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Hole in the tree

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The gardens are open every day and there is no charge.

They appear to have a Facebook page, but no website of their own, guess they employ gardeners and not computer geeks.  I did find the gardens listed on a US website, but am uncertain about their pictures – the gardens are just not this close to the sea.  Anyhow, definitely worth a visit.

All images from HCL with permission.

Feed the birds ….

….It costs more than tuppence

Hungry Sparrow

Hungry Sparrow

My mother had a bird table outside her living room window, which given that she kept cats as well seemed a little harsh, but despite the cats her bird table was visited by hundreds of birds. I used to be vaguely interested when I visited, but never to the extent of setting up a bird table of my own. Yes we had one in the garden, what family with young children doesn’t at some point, but it was more of a support for the creeping bindweed than hungry birds. But it seems I have reached that age – I have developed an interest in feeding the birds. And I have a garden that is perfect for doing this.

Kiskadee

Kiskadee

On your first visit to Bermuda you might be forgiven for thinking the only bird around is a Kiskadee. They are noisy. Not endemic to the island, they were brought across from Trinidad in 1957 to control the anolis lizard (which itself was imported to control a fruit parasite). For the most part Kiskadees ignored the lizards and preferred insects and berries both plentiful so now we have lots of lizards and lots of Kiskadees. They don’t need any help from me to find food.

Non-lizard-eating kiskadee

Non-lizard-eating kiskadee

What we do have in Bermuda are sparrows – the same ones you saw when growing up but not now so common in UK. I was going to insist that the sparrows we have here are Old World Sparrows, not the American Tree Sparrow, but having looked at various images on the web I am not so certain about this – maybe one of my friends from the Bermuda Audubon Society will put me right.

Male Northern Cardinal At Feeder

Image from wikipedia, but if you come back to my blog later in the year maybe i will have one of my own!

But the bird I am trying to attract to my feeder is a Red Cardinal. I know he is close by, my neighbour ( the lemon-drizzle-cake-one) has him calling at her table and I am determined to get him to come round the corner.

So I set off to a garden centre to find a bird feeder. Actually I set off to first find a garden centre. To save you the petrol costs of a round-the-island drive, it is actually just off the roundabout in Paget, the one where Johnny Barnes greets the morning traffic. Don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it before, right opposite the National Trust offices at Waterville.

Here I made two mistakes: firstly I bought cheap seed feeders and secondly I baulked at paying $30 for a large tub of bird seed.

The tub would have been a good idea – bird seed is around $5 per litre and the tub was at least 10 litres, bargain. But I didn’t know that then. A stubborn streak prevented me from returning later so I ended up at another store with 5 litres of proper bird seed, 5 litres of scratch mix and another 5 litres of sunflower seed at the grand total of $54 (Bermuda cost of living is high, no less so for the birds). Plus of course the large plastic box with lid.

The lesson of the cheap feeders was short and brutal – first one disappeared overnight, then the second on the next night. Note, “disappeared”, not “fell off the hook” or “broke”, plain disappeared. Clearly I needed either a substantial feeder on a big hook or a roll of duct tape – I now have both. I have absolutely no idea what can have carried off my cheap feeders, cat? cockroach? heron?

The Red Cardinal comes from Virginia, likely deliberately introduced in the late 17th century, not this time to eat lizards, but probably as a caged bird, to look pretty. They certainly are very pretty. It is about the season for them to be mating and then they will build messy nests, lay brown mottled eggs and be conscientious parents with the young hatching in April. This from the “Guide to the Birds of Bermuda” by Eric Amos, a 1990 copy of which I found in the library. He begins with a statement that ornithology began in the mid 1800s when military men exchanged their shotguns for binoculars.

Apart from sparrows and maybe a cardinal I can expect a few starlings, mourning doves (a posh name for a small pigeon) and maybe a grey catbird that reportedly has a “long rambling introspective song” (no idea). It is unlikely that I will see the other birds – bluebirds and vireos – both populations declined with the loss of cedar trees in the mid 20th century.

Redshank island  - at the bottom of the garden :)

Redshank island – at the bottom of the garden 🙂

We are fortunate to have a waterfront garden onto Harrington Sound and from the dock if I sit quietly I can see an assortment of water birds – herons, egrets and terns in the main, but in the summer there are white-tailed tropic birds or long tails – it seems the whole neighbourhood has created nesting holes for them and last year at least two pairs were successful in breeding. I don’t need to feed these birds but if I take some bread down for the fish the birds soon appear.

So how am I getting on with my bird feeding project?

Non-Disappearing bird feeder

Non-Disappearing bird feeder

No birds?
While I can watch them from the safety of the sofa, they won’t pose for photographs!

OK, it may be wishful to place it so close to the house, but we shall see....

OK, it may be wishful to place it so close to the house, but we shall see….

But look what they have done to my table – that is for my coffee, not random bird seed, what a mess!

Bird table?

Bird table?

The Lemon Drizzle Cake Saga

Taster

Taster

It began with my neighbour inviting me round for coffee, where she served up the most delicious lemon drizzle cake. “It’s just a simple madeira sponge” she said, the assumption being I would have some idea as to what that meant. The trouble is, I had no idea – a shocking confession for a woman of my age: I cannot bake a cake!

I am old enough to have had cookery lessons at school before they morphed through “home economics” to “food technology”. If any of my schoolfriends remember what I was supposed to have learnt feel free to enlighten me. I think I stopped paying attention on “scones” and managed to achieve acceptable grades by judicious choice of seating such that I could copy the actions of one of the more competent cooks in the class – did you never wonder why my dishes were always last out of the oven? I was always exactly one step behind you.

After 2 slices of the simple-madeira-sponge I was drugged into the possibly delusional state that I might be able to make one myself. So, “Lemon Drizzle Cake” became my next project.

How hard can it be?

Plan 1 entailed just 3 steps – find recipe, buy ingredients, bake cake.
After reading more than a dozen different recipes I had reached the answer – too hard.

Extreme disparities and ingredients I have never heard of (polenta?) relegated the project to the “oh, well, it was a thought” category. Nothing here met the criterion “simple”.

The next day my neighbour gave me her recipe:

  • 175g caster sugar
  • 125g butter
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 lemons

Mentally I wasn’t planning on doing anything with this, but the discovery of a food mixer in the corner kitchen cupboard kindled my Masterchef genes. If it sounds odd that I didn’t know I had a food mixer, it really isn’t – the landlord has kindly left us all sorts of extras for our use, but I had classed the corner cupboard contents as “really-nice-but-I’m-no cook” along the same lines as the garden tools.

So, having added the ingredients to my trolley I was all set. Except I had no cake tin. I may regret my decision to keep-it-cheap with a $10 tin (range $10-$35) – from dipping into the fora on BBC’s Good Food website I now understand that thicker heavier tins result in more even heat distribution and thus are more likely to produce a competition standard cake.

If you are observant you will have noticed 2 words that give away an element of my character – Masterchef and competition: I am very competitive! This may be in part due to academic schooling but is more likely my innate character. I once took an evening class in English literature twice (obviously not a grammar course as how can you once do something twice?) but I declined to sit the exams at the end because I was not sure I would get an A grade. On another occasion I turned the London to Brighton bike “ride” not an almost “race” because I so much wanted to get ahead of my co-riding friend. Due to unforeseen fitness differences I failed.

Anyway, back to the cake. Somewhere along the line my competitive nature had been triggered. My children are all excellent cooks and I was by now imagining a women’s-institute-quality lemon drizzle cake that would outclass their creations.

But my excitement was short-lived, falling at the next hurdle “line the tin”. “Greaseproof paper” doesn’t seem to exist on Bermuda, nor is “waxed paper” a suitable alternative; two supermarkets later I found “Reynolds Genuine Parchment Paper” an upmarket version of English greaseproof.

On the shelf beside the baking ingredients were some plastic boxes, but none fitting the dimensions of my project. I love buying boxes and storage containers, even more sorting things to put in them. Was it Winnie-the-Pooh who gave Eeyore a “Useful Pot to keep Things in” – my idea of a perfect birthday present. So I enjoyed my trip to Masters to buy a cake container and was mightily distracted into buying several others to keep Things in. But as I browsed the aisles I discovered several other necessary cake-making tools: kitchen scales, spatula, testing skewer, sieve, cooling rack. This was becoming an expensive cake.

I arrived home laden with exciting purchases and cleared the kitchen surfaces for my baking.

I shan’t be entering my first cake into any county shows. Do they have those on Bermuda? Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a disaster, in fact it hasn’t lasted very long in the cake container, but it wouldn’t be grade A.

I have learned a few things –

  • grating lemons with a basic cheese grater is not a good substitute for a fine mesh grating surface (did you know the cheese grater was invented in 1540?)
  • squeezing lemons by hand is hard
  • my oven is calibrated in Fahrenheit, 180F is not hot enough to bake a cake
  • every celebrity chef has their own recipe for lemon drizzle cake

Adding the costs, I reached an approximate total of $88 for this project, about $8.80 per slice. At first glance home baking does not look to be cost-effective. Waitrose (UK) sell a whole lemon cake for £2.69, which would translate into $8 Bermuda prices once duties have been added on. But look at their list of ingredients:

Sugar, FORTIFIED WHEAT FLOUR (wheat flour, calcium carbonate, iron, niacin, thiamin), pasteurised free range egg, rapeseed oil, lemon juice, full cream milk, humectant vegetable glycerol, unsalted butter (milk), cornflour, lemon zest, maize glucose syrup, lemon comminute, raising agents diphosphates and sodium carbonate, lemon oil,emulsifier mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, salt, preservative potassium sorbate, citric acid 

Mine has just 6 ingredients, none sound so gross as “humectant vegetable glycerol”.

I have been told I need to make more cake for this project to achieve economic viability.

Therefore I need to eat more cake.

This, I have decided, is a good thing.

My Lemon Drizzle Cake

My Lemon Drizzle Cake

We don’t need no education

In the wake of a strident article in the Royal Gazette claiming “Bermuda’s public schools are like those of the third world”, I decided to explore the education system on the island. My days of choosing schools were some 20 years ago and I have no intention of making any recommendations in this post. However, I thought it might be useful to summarise what is available and provide some links to local school websites. The article is aimed at potential ex-pats with families planning on settling in Bermuda, it will probably be common knowledge to Bermudians.

So your first decision, and potential confusion is “public” or “private”. In UK public is a term saved for the few rarified and time-cemented institutions such as Rugby, Eton, Winchester. In Bermuda public means state-run, supported by Bermudian taxes. Private, in both, is fee-paying or independent.

I can already see you reaching for the cheque book, especially if the newspaper is anywhere near correct in that public schools here are substandard, deprived, poor.

Hold on though, is there any truth there?

My reading of the article is that the author is revitalising a long-standing political argument about standards within the Ministry of Education. If you visit their website, you could well jump to the same conclusions – the site is poorly presented, full if missing links and empty pages and has the appearance of something left in the development stages back in the 1990s.

Yes, there are problems with the department responsible for education, not least that it is a shared portfolio with the Economic Affairs department and has not had a dedicated Education Minister for the last 15 months. (Post-script note: curiously one was appointed as I wrote, lending the impression that maybe the original news article was all a publicity stunt in a deeply political game!)
But departmental disarray is not the same thing as claiming standards of education in public schools are deficient. And thats as far as I am going to comment on politics.

Back to the schools themselves.

School Levels

School Levels

Education on the island is compulsory from 5 to 16 years with 38 state schools providing it for free for the 6000 students in that system. The structure is

  • Primary: up to Year 6 of UK or grade 5 in US
  • Middle: years 7,8,9 of UK or to US grade 8
  • Senior: up to year 13 of UK, grade 12 of US, to the point of starting college (US) / university

On reaching the final year of senior school the students will take the “Bermuda School’s Certificate” which is graded A to D. The public schools follow the Cambridge International Curriculum, which gives a framework for English, Maths and Science and allows benchmarking against other international schools with external examinations. The pupils have primary level tests and middle school checkpoint tests and then sit IGCSEs in year Senior 2. This has only been running for the past 4 years but early results suggest Bermuda with 90% pass rates for the public school pupils compare favourably with an international average of 76% pass rate. So nothing there to support the claim of third world comparison.

The School Run

The School Run

It is true, however, that most ex-pat families will pursue private schooling, at least for the senior classes. Some send their children off-island to boarding schools in UK, Canada or US; whatever their reasoning it is not due to lack of options for private schooling on the island.

There are 6 private schools on the island, each having junior departments and all but one offering the equivalent of “sixth-form” (UK college level, ages 17 and 18).
Bermuda Institute  Southampton Parish

Bermuda High School for Girls   Hamilton City

Mount St Agnes Academy  Hamilton City

Saltus Grammar School  Hamilton City

Somersfield Academy  Smith’s Parish

Warwick Academy  Warwick Parish

Perhaps the first question to tackle is “What are the fees?” Education here is certainly not cheap, the range shown in the table.

12,300
Bermuda Institute
17,104
Mount St Agnes
17,985
Warwick Academy
19,000
Bermuda High School
19,990
Somersfield
20,000
Saltus

Annual school fees 2014/15 in $ (if paid in one single payment)

It is obviously cheaper to pay in a single payment at the start of the academic year, but each school offers the option of payment by instalments. I shall leave you to make the comparisons with your own countries.  None of these, by the way, are boarding schools, though all offer extra-curricular and after school programmes.

So what about size?
All of them adverts “small class sizes” though only Bermuda High School goes as far as to define small, which in this case is 20. Comparing size using pupil numbers is deceptive. Somersfleid appears to be the smallest with 480 pupils but does not offer senior years 3 or 4 (UK 12/13 or US grades 11/12) and they don’t clarify if the figure includes primary pupils. On pupil numbers, Saltus is the largest with over 900 students; Warwick Academy 780 ; BHS 690; Bermuda Institute 560; Mount St Agnes not stated.

Small classes: no overcrowding!

Small classes: no overcrowding!

As one might expect, all of the private schools are academically selective using interviews at younger ages and entrance exams for later years. Selection processes take place in the Spring term from January to March for entrance the following September.

While it might be tempting to choose a school on proximity/fees/size the curricular programmes play a role in differentiating between the schools. With the ultimate destination being higher education for the majority of students, the courses offered need to prepare them for the choices – UK/US/Canada. Traditionally the American system will use Standard Assessment Tests (SAT) and require a figure for Grade Point Average (GPA) while the UK system uses GCSEs and A levels. Europe uses the International Baccalaureate (IB) and most UK Universities these days detail acceptable IB standards for admissions. So parents or students may wish to choose schools offering the programme that gives them a competitive advantage for where they eventually wish to pursue further education.

GCSE
BHS, Saltus, Warwick
IGCSE
BHS, Saltus, Warwick
IB
BHS, Warwick
SAT
Saltus, Mount St Agnes, Bermuda Institute

The IGCSE groups subjects into 5 areas, the student selecting one subject from each area: languages, creative and technical, humanities, maths, social sciences. This is similar to the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (IBMYP) that is offered by Somersfield. This school commences with a Montessori curriculum in primary years, then IBMYP with students moving onto BHS or Warwick if they wish to complete the IB. The IB here consists of 6 subjects, 3 at standard level and 3 at higher, with additional study on theory of knowledge, creativity and action and service. Warwick Academy also offers single subjects within the IB programme.

One aspect I haven’t yet covered is religion – Mount St Agnes is a Catholic School and Bermuda Institute is Seventh Day Adventist. Neither is religiously exclusive, but students will be expected to partake in daily faith-based activities within the school day. Non-religious community service is an integral aspect of all of the schools. For example Warwick expects a minimum of 25 hours from a senior student with a reflective written report at the year-end. Personally I think that this focus is something that stands out amongst Bermudian school students across the island — without exception, they seem to be polite and considerate, and you will find them volunteering in many different fields.

Of course there are many other aspects to distinguish one school from another, and you will wish to make visits to get a sense of the ethos, teaching and whether pupils are happy.

Happy? At school? Whatever next!

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
— Mark Twain

Bermuda Rocks

Bermuda Rocks

Spring onions

So the onion was dropped  and the Christmas lights taken down, it is now most definitely a New Year: 2015. Dropping things at midnight New Years Day seems to be a largely state-side celebration though I assume its origins were with the Greenwich Time Ball.  At least Bermudians just “drop” a symbolic onion – in parts of Greece they drop real onions on the children heads before they go to church on New Year’s Day. No, I have no idea!

I haven’t made any particular resolutions but thought I might begin the year with tidying my computer – well it beats cleaning the house, which I shall not attempt until Spring. Over the last two years I have amassed many links in my “favourites” column of bookmarks that relate to Bermuda in some way or other so this is where I started.

Before long I have been sidetracked by “Nothing to do in Bermuda”, a site that carries a comprehensive list of anything and everything local – from AA meetings to Ikebana classes (Japanese flower arranging) Now I like this site a lot and use it at least once a week, but it isn’t easy to find out who is behind it and I confess to being just a little disappointed that my blog is not included in the long list of Bermuda-related blogs.

I have a decision to make – do I continue the pruning process logically going down my list in order or should I permit myself to be lured by a surf from one site to another? Surfing wins and I find myself on Emoo. This is the island’s equivalent of “Gumtree”.   I could buy a boat for $89,000, a Rottweiler puppy for $3,900 or a fitness DVD for $5. Emoo definitely stays on the list.

From here I leap to Bermuda Tourism.  Given the latest “update” is from August 2014 I am left uncertain as to the current-ness of this organisation.  More recent and more regularly updated information is found on the bermuda.com website. But once again not clear who publishes the site or whether it is affiliated with any official organisations.  I did see in the Royal Gazette this morning that the Tourist board are rebranding Bermuda as “an all year round destination” and an “Atlantic destination” – apparently the people who run this board have learned that Bermuda is not in the Caribbean!

I am not getting very far with my “non-spring-clean” of my computer. I have just learned that spring-cleaning is thought to originate from the Persian New Year practice of “khooneh tekouni” or shaking the house. It is also the name of a rather risqué 1925 play.

Back to the bookmarks, with the next two, Bermuda Library and Bermuda National Trust,
remaining on the list even though both websites need a bit of TLC and updating.

Next is Little Monkey and Friends – a fun blog from another ex-pat on Bermuda, and she has dozens of children so I have no idea where she finds the time!

Andrew Stevenson’s “Whales Bermuda” wins a permanent place in my bookmarks, as do the book and DVD on my shelves. Counting down to around 9 weeks for Whale Watch 2015.

I seem to have collected some PDFs of Trees and buildings on Bermuda, they can go in a separate file. Skimming through the latter I learn that a double-pile house is one with two rows of rooms, or two rooms deep and became fashionable on Bermuda in the 19th century – that is over 100 years after they became usual in England. From this I presume that I have for many years misunderstood the sayings surrounding rich men sitting on piles – the medical interpretation is more humorous. So Verdmont is a double-pile house, I shall have to remember the term for my first day back there tomorrow. Built not long after 1696 it would certainly have been a huge statement of wealth on the island at that time.

I started this process several hours ago and so far have moved just one bookmark into the computer bin. I think I shall take the easy way out – start a new folder and new file labelled 2015!

Looking East from the Railway Trail near Bailey's Bay

Looking East from the Railway Trail near Bailey’s Bay

Home for Christmas

When standing at the check-in desk for the last flight home before Christmas, the one sentence you do NOT want to hear is “Oh, you have been offloaded….”
To be fair the check-in clerk looked as anxious as we felt, but he wasn’t boarding a six hour flight to his Christmas turkey, nor had he paid the eye-watering price of the tickets.
Anyway, it’s far too complicated to try to explain – involving a middleofthenight realisation that 26th was Boxing Day and not Saturday, a dawn phonecall to unbook a $12,000 flight booked in panic and not realising we had booked flexible tickets in the first place – told you it was complex!
Fifteen minutes later and one problem solved my hero husband turned to see I was lagging behind. All this time I had been outwitted by technology as I attempted to use “EasyPark” to register the fact that our car was parked in the parking lot. That’s a rather optimistic name for a random group of cars alongside the infamous airport tip where washing machines share final resting places with rusting cars and hundreds of cats.
“Loading, please wait” is most likely now burnt onto my smart phone screen. Not so smart today. Apparently the in-car meter runs on a different line of credit to the on-phone meter, so although we had anticipated the costs, added to the balance and checked the car park code, the computer still said “No”. It is for times like this that EasyPark has other EASY access methods. A credit card later and problem 2 was solved.

Neither money nor passport solved the third problem – by the time we reached the BA lounge there were NO sandwiches left. So I have 2 glasses of wine with immediate access to my nervous system. All that is required now is a short stagger to the plane…
Yes, Christmas has begun 😃🌲

The Bermuda Flag

This story began a few weeks back, my husband ordered a Bermuda flag for one of his recently constructed model ships.  Modelling supplies are hard to come by on the island and, perhaps surprisingly, so are small Bermuda flags suitable for the ship’s red ensign.  The flag was eventually sourced from UK suppliers at a cost of £4.88.

IMG_0889

Maybe a bit expensive, but in the grand scheme of things not too bad.  That was until we arrived at the post office to collect it:

IMG_0890

The tax was $1.76 (25%) and then a handling charge of $5.00.  That is almost 100% extra (£4.31).  What made it even more frustrating was that we had just a few days previously paid another $5 handling fee for something equally miniscule that could very well have been packaged in the one envelope!

Anyway, here it is:

IMG_0888Obviously this is the back side, it has not found its way onto the boat yet.

What is it called when you look for something everywhere and cannot get it then once you have finally tracked it down suddenly the item becomes uncommonly common? Well thats what happened – in the last week we have seen Bermuda flags just about everywhere.  That might in part be explained by the announcement that Bermuda will host the 2017 America’s Cup (more on that in the next post) and in celebration hundreds of paper flags were printed for the crowds to wave, but seriously, I even found one on a packet of sugar:

IMG_0891

The vexillologists among my readers will have noticed that the Bermuda flag is somewhat unusual in that it is actually a defaced red ensign and red ensign flags are really only supposed to go on ships at sea, not flown from land.  The British Admiralty did not exactly approve this but in 1955 they discussed the practice with the then Governor and decided that to prohibit what by then was a longstanding tradition would probably be unproductive and so retrospective permission was granted to continue with this as the country’s flag.

That is not the only controversy over the flag.  The coat of arms it bears is a red lion holding a shield with an image of the Sea Venture.  This coat of arms was granted to the island in 1910. It appears much much earlier however, on the title page of the 1624 publication by Admiral John Smith “The General History of Virginia, New England and The Summer Isles” .

image from wikipedia

image from wikipedia

It is at the bottom of the page with the lion carrying also a banner “Quo fata ferunt“, the motto “Whither the fates carry us”.  The Sommer Isles (also Somer’s, Summer’s, Sommer’s) was the earlier name for the Islands of Bermuda, named after Sir George Somers, the founding Admiral. The image was on the seal of the Somer’s Isles Company, the company that managed Bermuda on behalf of the Adventurers and Investors in the early 17th century.

Where’s the controversy? It is whether the ship is actually the Sea Venture or whether it represents an earlier wreck, a ship sailed in 1593, the wreck of which was reported by Henry May an English sailor. This argument is cleverly put together in a mini documentary, The Riddle of the Crest” to be found  on the Bermuda Conservation website.

Personally I think that although the image depicts a ship crashing on high cliffs and there are no such cliffs around the coast of Bermuda, it is probably artistic licence in that a ship crashing onto a hidden reef is probably not very easy to draw.  It is certainly the most popular view that the ship is the Sea Venture.

In my reading around this topic I found that the Governor is entitled to use a flag that is the Union Flag with a coat of arms in the centre of the crosses.  I also came across a page of rules connected to flying country flags – one I had previously learned when working at The Globe in St George’s: do not permit the flag to drag on the floor.  Of course I had learned by doing exactly that in front of the museum curator.  To make that situation worse a few weeks later I actually hung not just one but both of the flags on their poles upside down.  This, I am told, is an international distress sign – the vicar from the church opposite kindly called the BNT head office to see if I was alright! I guess it may not be random that I find myself at Verdmont now and not at The Globe Museum, responsible for the respect of the Bermuda flag.

Verdmont at Christmas

Christmas 2014

Christmas 2014

I am back at Verdmont! I am reminded what a beautiful house it is and what made me volunteer for the Bermuda National Trust in the first place.

In the entrance

In the entrance

This week it greeted me with the sight of Christmas. Decorations had magically appeared in every room.

Palmetto Angels

Palmetto Angels

Thursday was quiet but not deserted, two visitors enjoyed their picnic lunch with a view across to the South Shore. The sun, less fierce now, warmed the grass and my shoulders as I read happily on the lawn.

Table setting

Table setting

A neighbour walking her small dog and small granddaughter stopped to talk. The day moved gently with the lengthening shadows.

image

And I closed the shutters, darkened cedar-smelling rooms fell asleep. Three hundred years of Christmas.

Herald Angels Sing

Herald Angels Sing

It doesn’t have to be cold and snowing to be Christmas!

Mangroves

The greening-up post hurricane has been astounding, we now have hibiscus flowers in the hedge again and it is actually green enough to be called a hedge.

What is less easy to see however is the damage along the Bermuda coast from the recent tropical storms. After the previous huge hurricane, Fabian, a lot of sediment was lost from the shores, seen on satellite images as a bright plume dragged out off the south-west into the Atlantic. But Bermuda is not all pink sand – in fact only 6% can be called beach, mostly along the South Shore. The rest is rocky shore, with a few cliffs and, hidden around a few corners, some mangrove swamps.  I’m not talking acres of unnavigable jungle as you will recall from films (e.g. Black Water, a 2007 horror movie) , but square meters of important habitat along Bermuda’s coastline.

Bermudian Mangrove Swamp

Bermudian Mangrove Swamp

 

Mangroves are usually associated with tropical countries – they are halophytes, salt-tolerant species of tropical trees. Those on Bermuda are the most northerly mangrove forests in the Atlantic – so pretty unique. (My first draft had this as the northernmost in the world but then I learned that some in Japan reach 35 degrees North while Bermuda is at 32 degrees North! ) The largest area of mangrove swamp is at Hungry Bay, but that has been affected like the other 30 smaller areas on the island by rising sea level and human impact as well as hurricanes.

The bigger mangroves are Black Mangroves, Avicennia germinans, trees of up to 10m in height, with characteristic pneumatophores growing upwards out of the water. The Red Mangroves, Rhizophora mangle, called because of the red wood underneath the bark, have lots of prop roots growing downwards from the branches and trunk. Both are adapted to the salt water – red mangrove roots filter it out and then store what they don’t use in the leaves which then fall off, while the black mangrove excretes salt onto the leaves. The seeds on the red mangrove are clever, they have pendulum-like weights and after they have germinated, still on the mother plant, they are released and hopefully the weighted pod will plummet into the boggy ground and take hold.  Black mangrove seeds need proper land to establish themselves in, they won’t grow in the water.

Red Mangroves

Red Mangroves

If you are in a kayak then the ones closest to the water will probably be red mangroves, the black ones being slightly inland in comparison, They are not exactly attractive so it is easy to see why they may have been ignored from the conservation aspect over the years. But they are an important habitat for herons, silk spiders, hermit crabs and juvenile fish. They also are a source of CRAP (yes, I did say that, it means Carbon Rich Aggregate Particles) which can be a food source for the reef creatures. Both red and black mangroves are listed under the Bermuda protected species act of 2011.

Prop Roots

Prop Roots

One can assume from place names that they were probably more plentiful in the past: Mangrove Bay on the west coast for example doesn’t actually advertise its name with a huge mangrove presence nowadays.

My photos are from Paget Marsh, which is slightly unusual in that the water there is fresh to brackish and not the usual salt water habitat where most Bermudian mangroves are found.

Dense stabilisers

Dense stabilisers

Loss of mangrove swamps on Bermuda could mean that the coast is not as well protected from future hurricanes and tidal activity. The density of their roots and trunks stabilise the sediment and mitigates wave damage, which protects the shore further inland. In other parts of the world mangroves are used in foods, furniture, even paper making or leather tanning. Bermuda has never had a commercial volume available, unlike the cedar wood that was used to within a tree or two of extinction, but just because it isn’t commercial doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable.

“If you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding”

One of my relatives sends me the National Geographic magazine. It takes a while to reach me – forwarded through Royal Mail to an expat-mail company to Bermuda mail sorting office at the airport, takes a rest there before passing through customs where it is awarded an extra stamp telling me that no duty is due, then, with any luck, will be delivered by a postman – if not lucky I have to collect it at the local post office, which isn’t open on Saturdays by the way! Anyhow, thats why I am only just looking at the November issue. Why am I telling you this?

Because on page 134, Bermuda is highlighted on a world map, and, given its size of 21 square miles, that means whatever the map is depicting, something on Bermuda is significant.

Not to scale?

Not to scale?

There are hundreds of amazing things about Bermuda the rest of the world ought to know but the article is not about any of them – it’s about MEAT.

The meat consumption on Bermuda is around 573 calories per person per day.

To add perspective:

meat calories per capita per day
US

424

UK

402

S. America

366

Caribbean

208

The meat products included are the expected beef,pork, lamb, poultry, rabbit and game but also some we don’t eat on Bermuda such as horse, ass, mule, camel and aquatic mammals. The article talks about the appetite for meat falling in developed countries due to health awareness, cholesterol etc, and economic downturn. It seems that neither of those have impacted Bermuda’s consumption of meat.

Bermuda boasts a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of US$75,000.  By this measure, it is one of the world’s richest countries. On island consumer tastes have moved to fresh rather than the tinned or processed which dominated the import markets in late 20th century, with a current surge in demand for organic products. Obviously nearly all meat is imported, I have seen some cows and pigs on the island but in small numbers, probably not destined for the table.

Given that everything is expensive in Bermuda one might expect the cost of meat to be prohibitive, but actually compared with UK the relative cost of meat is lower. A Sirloin steak will cost around $6 per pound, not much different in UK. It seems to me that the quality of the meat is better as well – steaks here are delicious, even with my cooking.

Apparently our beef comes from the American plains, pork from Virginia and chicken from Arizona. British lamb and Danish bacon makes us feel more at home!

So is it just the relative costs and availability that keep meat as the predominant protein in the Bermudian diet? It’s an island surrounded by deep water with delicious fish – surely dietary protein would be fish-based? There are many restaurants offering a wonderful seafood menu and during the summer fresh fish is sold by the roadside. But if the statistics are to be believed Bermudians prefer meat!

14th November 2014

IMG_0865

Sunrise over the Sound

Today has been a good day. Today has been an ordinary day.

My husband noticed the sunrise as he made the morning coffee – he brought both to me in bed. 6:47am

I called in at the doctors after dropping R. off in Hamilton, nothing urgent, but he saw me straight away.  This is not the NHS. 9:34am

I needed a blood test. Painless and polite. 9:43am

I paid the co-pay. Polite, not so painless. $45    Insurance $75

Dropped into the pharmacy. No wait. Painless bill to Insurance Co. $262.55  9:52am

I needed a haircut, nothing urgent, but she saw me straight away.  $75   10:22am

I needed a coffee. I have a coffee. Sitting outside in the sun.

Today is a good day, like other days. This is Bermuda.

The closest I will get to talking about politics

Sessions House

Sessions House

This last week saw the opening of Parliament in Bermuda marked by the “Throne Speech” from the Governor, George Fergusson. I don’t know whether the Queen writes her own speeches for opening Parliament in UK, but I learned today that the Governor doesn’t, rather he is given permission to read it from the Government in power at the time. This year the speech talks about the “wisdom of our ancestors” and “deep rooted community spirit”, an altogether more positive approach than last year’s one that used terms such as “shore-up”, “revitalise”, and “most challenging”.

Bermuda’s Parliament was established in 1620 – the Throne itself was made in 1642 from Bermuda cedar and the gavel is the same one used in the 1600s made of cedar from a tree in St Peter’s churchyard at St George’s. The tree was apparently the one under which the first governing body held meetings, or so the Government website claims.

The political system mirrors that of UK with the Queen as Head of State, a Governor, who represents the Queen on the island, and two houses – the Senate as the upper house and the House of Assembly equivalent to the House of Commons. The constitution was re-introduced in 1968 and since then Party Politics has been the method of ensuring representation. Today there are two main parties: One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) and Progressive Labour Party (PLP). The PLP has been around since 1963 and has long passages giving detailed history on the website, while the OBA was newly formed in 2011 but as with many political groups it was formed by a conglomeration of other ideals and the two main groups of United Bermuda Party and Bermuda Democratic Alliance. So its no wonder that the current population are uncertain who is in power – PLP,OBA,UBP or BDA (that last acronym is also the one used by international airport naming group for Bermuda Airport – see previous post) It is, I am told, the OBA and that, I am also told, is a good thing. I refuse to enter the very scary world of political blogs so that is all I am going to say on it.

Last winter I joined a tour around Sessions House, the building where the House of Assembly sits or holds its sessions. It is one of the prettiest buildings in Hamilton, standing just a little shorter than the Cathedral. I heard somewhere that no building in Hamilton is allowed to be taller than the Cathedral. The original building of 1879 was a simple 2-storey affair but less than 10 years later a clock tower was added along with considerable elaboration of the interior.

King George III and Queen Charlotte in Chamber of The House of Assembly

King George III and Queen Charlotte in Chamber of The House of Assembly

The upper storey houses the main Chamber, an oak-panelled wall matched by chairs and desks in old English oak. Two large portraits watch over proceedings – King George III (1760-1820) and Queen Charlotte, copies of the originals – I didn’t quite follow if the copies were done by Sir Joshua Reynolds or just the originals – presented to Bermuda by Governor Sir James Cockburn. So that sets the bar high for a leaving present when George Fergusson returns to the home country. I wonder if Bermuda gives the outgoing Governor a present? A cedar tray made by prisoners? A pottery gecko? No, don’t worry, I think he is due a knighthood when he leaves here – sends me hurriedly to wikipedia to check he hasn’t already got one – he’s apparently an Honorable so far, pretty amazing family history, definitely born into the job.

The other portraits decorating the chamber are of past Speakers, but they have run out of space so a new speaker will oust the old timer who currently has been there since 1864 (which I don’t believe as the building was’t even there then). The Speaker is apparently chosen from among the 36 elected members and thenceforth has to denounce party politics and be impartial – seems a bit of a waste of an MP, if you vote on the back of one of his policies then he gets given the job of speaker, he can no longer act on behalf of his constituents. Voters clearly not deterred in the last election – that saw a 71% turnout. I suppose there are advantages of being on a small island the size of a town, there aren’t all the extra council elections where you have usually absolutely no idea who they are and end up casting your vote on the fact they have a kitten, or a child at your child’s school etc.

The Upper House consists of 11 Senators (some American influence has crept in there), all reportedly appointed by the Governor, but when you look at the small print, he has to choose 5 from the 5 preferred by the Premier, 3 from the 3 names proposed by the Opposition and only has his own say in the final 3.

The Mace

The Mace

The Mace is the symbol of authority of the speaker. It is carried in by the sergeant-at-arms when the speaker enters at each session. The current Mace came from London in 1920. It is silver gilt, a term I had to look up – I had no idea that an Ormolu Clock was made of gilt-bronze, can’t wait till the next Antiques Roadshow to impress my family – silver gilt is actually cheating, just a thin gold covering, but it sounds posher if you use the term vermeil and The White House has a lot of it.

The other formal piece is the Black Rod, like the British version this is both a rod and a person, representing the Crown. In Bermuda the role falls to the Senior Police Officer and he leads the MPs to the Senate Chamber for the Throne Speech – this is actually in a building across the road so one hopes it isn’t raining. If you read the local paper reporting on this process you could be forgiven for checking you aren’t reading Vogue – the reporter gives comprehensive detail on each members dress / suit / earings / tie – check for yourselves! Anyhow, the Bermuda Black Rod was again a gift, made by the Crown Jewellers and topped with a silver coat of arms.

So now the Parliament is in Season (that doesn’t sound quite right but you know what I mean) and we can look forward to …. well, the Budget comes next, February, I can’t wait.

Bermuda Parliament

Governor of Bermuda

The Cabinet Office

Quickie Lickie

It may sound like a Chinese Takeaway or an Ice Cream shop, but it is actually a laundromat.  With several branches across the island I was spoilt for choice, but convenience selected the one next door to my husband’s office in Hamilton.

Quickie Lickie Laundromat, Hamilton, Bermuda

Quickie Lickie Laundromat, Hamilton, Bermuda

For me this was a new experience, and as you get older they don’t happen all that often.  Not quite as daunting as a visit to the dentist but I was a little apprehensive, holding tightly onto the king-sized duvet as it tried to escape from the not-so-king-size black plastic bag.  At first I thought there was nobody there, but hidden at the back was an industrious lady folding newly dried pillowslips and because she wore an apron I asked her for some help.  She directed me to “one of the large machines” in which my duvet looked like just half a load.  But I was stuck again, no instructions.  You, of course, are laughing, who needs instructions to do the washing? I surmised I needed money and detergent.  The former I had – a pocket weighed down with coins, sought out just half an hour ago from the usual hiding places – back of sofa, old purse, trouser pockets and bedside tables – all useless.  I read the notice “Bermuda’s First Coinless Laundry” but still had no idea what I should do next.

Laundry Card Machine - obvious when you look closely, doh.

Laundry Card Machine – obvious when you look closely, doh.

One thing about Bermudians is that they are very friendly and very helpful and though it turned out the lady-in-apron was actually a customer and not an attendant, she abandoned her own tasks to help me out. So I needed to buy a “laundry card”, $5, and load it with more $ which I then should use to buy some detergent, $1.50.  I didn’t need coins but I did need neat flat non crumpled notes. My family will tell you that I scrumple everything – train tickets, boarding passes, even credit cards – so of course I did not have any neat flat notes and the machine rejected every offering.  I was assured that my dirty washing would be safe while I went to the bank; nevertheless I hurried there and back, wanting neither to loose my place in the non-existent queue nor to lose my new friend without whom I was sure I would make a fool of myself.

IMG_0854

My $5 laundry card

My $5 laundry card

So now I had machine, detergent, card …. straightforward now?  Nope, the machine I had selected for being close to the door, was also out of order, a fact that I did not discover until after I had discharged the powdery detergent into the detergent drawer (which is on the top of the machine by the way, not easily found).  Next time I will know to bring my own washing liquid. I wish I had asked her name, the lady-in-apron gave me some of her own liquid detergent, I’d like to pay her back one day, for today all I can say is Thank You.

In case you forget to BYO

In case you forget to BYO

From this point everything ran smoothly, and true to it’s name, quickly.  There were wheeled baskets to carry the washing across to the wall of dryers and now I knew the system – insert card, select cycle, remove card – just five repeats of the 75 cent dry cycle and my fresh-soft-duvet is ready for bed.

Spoilt for choice

Spoilt for choice

 

Does everyone find it so hard not to give in once you have made up the bed with new sheets? But it is another 8 hours until I can go to bed!

After the storms

Somers Hill after Hurricane Gonzalo

Somers Hill after Hurricane Gonzalo

Returning to Bermuda after Hurricane Gonzalo and the overwhelming impression is “BROWN” – the trees that were felled by Fay the previous week have died leaving inoperable foliage and any trees that had retained their leaves through the first storm lost the battle with Gonzalo. It looks like winter – only winter here last year didn’t look brown, just slightly less green.

Screw Palm outside our home 2 weeks ago

Screw Palm outside our home 2 weeks ago

Outside our home now - no tree

Outside our home now – no tree

Our landlord did a pretty amazing clear-up job at the tail end of last week and we returned to a fully functioning home.  But the drive along our road is sad:

Down the road

Down the road

Broken trees

Broken trees

Where a neighbour had put in so much effort earlier this year to create a path down to the water’s edge, little was left to guide anyone:

Neat steps leading down to the sound in June this year

Neat steps leading down to the sound in June this year

No entry - after Gonzalo

No entry – after Gonzalo

Wall pulled down as tree fell

Wall pulled down as tree fell

Along the side of our home the hedge has become see-through:

Twiggy

Twiggy

Before the hurricane

Before the hurricane

We lost some palm trees:

Ex-palm

Ex-palm

After Fay, before Gonzalo

After Fay, before Gonzalo

Gained a view

Gained a view

And for some reason we have had some extra visitors:

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Rango

Rango

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Won't go

Won’t go

I hate ants!

I hate ants!

Window Frog (aka lost tree frog)

Window Frog (aka lost tree frog)

Bruised tree, blue sky

Bruised tree, blue sky

I have been told that palm trees and Bermuda both are resilient and the green will return – the blue sky is definitely back.  🙂

Flu-express, Bermuda: a drive-by vaccination programme

I probably shouldn’t be surprised to read in Bermuda news that flu vaccination sessions are being held over the next few weeks, but on some level I suppose I had associated flu with inclement weather, rain, dark evenings, hot lemon and blankets. Seasonal flu, northern hemisphere November to March, and the annual flu campaign – why not in Bermuda, it is in the northern hemisphere, does have a winter season and is very much not isolated from the world. It just hadn’t occurred to me.

My next thought was “should I have one?” For several years now I have “qualified” for a vaccination in UK – first as a health care worker and then as a health “hazard” (aka “person with chronic illness” as the more politically correct term) so where do I stand on Bermuda?

How do I approach answering this?
Some background:
The virus:

Influenza Virus (image: wikispaces-microbiology 2009)

Influenza Virus (image: wikispaces-microbiology 2009)

Influenza is caused by a virus, an orthomyxovirus. There are types A,B and C. Seasonal flu is commonly from types A or B. All viruses will have special characteristic protein molecules sticking out of their coat and these are used to further classify flu viruses – type A flu viruses will have varieties of H proteins and N proteins (haemagglutinin or neuraminidase). The proteins themselves will differ and at least 16 different H proteins have been identified so far. So different strains of virus will have names, such as “H3N2“, which was the main one causing seasonal flu last year. Others in the news have been “H1N1” that caused the 2009 pandemic or “H5N1” which was an avian flu virus that jumped the species barrier to infect a human in 1997.

The viruses can change the proteins they display, akin to wearing a different hat, and this can happen if two strains meet each other in the same victim. A virus can only reproduce inside a living cell but if two or more are trying to duplicate in the one cell then it’s inevitable they will make mistakes and get stuck together with wrong or different proteins, so creating a new strain. While most strains prefer one species to infect, some can make a leap, such as when “swine flu” viruses because capable of infecting a human. This all makes keeping up with the new strains extremely difficult and is the main reason why we have to have a flu vaccination every year – the strains circulating can change quickly.

The vaccine:
The vaccine is reconfigured every year according to data from a worldwide surveillance programme that informs WHO which strains are in circulation. Commonly the vaccine consists of 3 strains ( 2 type A and one B) but from last year in some places four strains (2A and 2B) have been used. Northern hemisphere vaccines will often be different from Southern ones, it all depends on which viruses are predominant in the areas.

Vaccines are given just before the anticipated season, i.e. October or April. In tropical regions the picture is less distinct as the illness can occur year round without pattern so guidelines for vaccinations here are still being developed.  Bermuda is not tropical, it has seasonal flu in the winter just like UK, Europe and much of US.

Seasonal vaccination is 70-90% effective at preventing disease. It is slightly less effective in the elderly but where they do contract influenza after vaccination the severity of the illness tends to be much reduced.

The injected vaccine does not contain live viruses. It is not possible to contract flu from the vaccine. That may not fit with the tales you hear – but it is fact. Some people do feel unwell after vaccinations, which could be due to an inflammatory response, but it isn’t flu itself and will not have the bad sequelae that may follow flu infections.
The illness:
Worldwide each year there will be around 3-5 million cases of severe influenza and 500,000 deaths. Those figures need some context: there are just over 2 million new cases of HIV infection worldwide each year; worldwide there are around 100,000 new cases of melanoma. Just because flu is common doesn’t mean it is not serious.

Pandemics occurred in 1889, 1918, 1953 and 1968. Did they reach Bermuda?  Official reports from the island government claimed no cases of influenza on Bermuda in 1889-90 but at the time there was a Swedish ship quarantined off-shore with dengue fever that was later found to be influenza brought across from Cuba. It would be surprising if the island had escaped from the 1918 pandemic but I haven’t yet found a source for the data. WHO unfortunately does not list Bermuda as a separate country, rather it seems to be included as part of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) which makes some sense given its proximity but none given it is a British Dependency. Neither US nor UK hold statistics for Bermuda, but maybe they don’t exist (triangles and all that)
In Bermuda:
Between 2000 and 2008 the average annual incidence was 744 cases per year.
Bermuda has used seasonal flu vaccination since the 1970s and coverage for the over 65s is around 60%. That figure isn’t all that good – Chile and Cuba claim a 100% uptake in the elderly and WHO were aiming for 75% coverage by 2010. In UK financial incentives for practices boosted uptake to above 80% but there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent drive in Bermuda.

One report on the drive-in flu campaign next week stated that it cost $10 for the vaccine, but in smaller print suggested those in health groups at risk should first get a prescription from their GP. I haven’t had to pay for any prescriptions yet on the island, they seem to be covered by insurance, but to see a GP the co-pay is $40 and I don’t know of you can get a prescription without a consultation – it might seem easier to pay the $10 at the drive-in.

The report also implies you don’t actually have to get out of your vehicle to have the injection – so much for the “sit in the waiting room for 10 minutes afterwards” advice we always gave patients in case they fainted or felt unwell. I think I would still suggest you don’t drive off immediately!

Conclusion:
All this makes me feel a little nervous – it’s different from what I normally do, I don’t know the rules, it’s not a familiar process. The publicity assumes a degree of knowledge, and although I know I do need one I am less clear on how I actually go about getting one. Are ex-pats entitled to the $10-government-subsidised vaccines? Should I book an appointment with my GP? Can I attend a drive-thru even if there isn’t one in the parish where I live?

Unusually for one of my blogs I have generated more questions that the ones I set out to answer. I am tempted to hide behind the low incidence of flu on the island – 744 is less than 1.25% of the population so in daily life I am unlikely to encounter the virus. But I am catching a plane back to UK at Christmas and that changes everything. If I don’t meet a virus on the plane then one of my relatives will probably introduce one with the presents or the turkey. So somehow I have to conquer my anxieties and join the queue for a Bermudian flu vaccination!

Escape to Washington

Most people will have heard that there have been bad storms in Bermuda this last week: starting with Fay and then, six days later, Gonzalo. It just so happened that my family were coming out too – great planning and forethought on my part to invite them at the peak of hurricane season, more like a naive “we didn’t have one last year so maybe …” Offspring-1 landed just 3 hours ahead of Tropical Storm Fay – BA pilots are known for their ability to land in any weather. Offspring-2 was in DisneyParis paying for her exhilarating experiences, while ours came loudly and relentlessly through the Saturday night. The dramatic finale for no1 was seeing a coconut palm tree snap in half just outside as she was sitting drinking an early morning coffee (the boiling of which entailed flashlight, saucepan, gas and matches as by then the power had given up)

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By daylight we had used up all the flushes (no power = no pump = no water for flush) and were pulling straws to see who was going down to Harrington Sound to get some water … Oh, no bucket, well that answers that one. Clearly my hurricane preparation pack was not up to standard; in fact I had been using the odd item from it for the past year so now we were down to just two tins of pilchards, one of beans and a few cereal bars with one loo roll.

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Later on Sunday we walked up to main road, the driveway almost impassable for the fallen trees. Traffic was surprisingly heavy – post-storm sightseeing I suppose. At that time we were unaware of the new storm brewing and I felt slightly exhilarated to have experienced something so powerful. Monday morning: family conference – decision needed; Gonzalo had been named and the BA flight takes off shortly – with or without our other offsprungs? In the end the decision was split, one came and one turned round, reasoning was unarguable, there was no leeway for being late getting back at the end of the week and so just too risky to put himself in that position. I agreed, yet still, as the hurricane approached, I felt the need to have all three with us somewhere, anywhere, just together. I became grumpy-mummy-wolf for a while.

Actually what was bothering me most was that, just two days before, I had bought a new kayak so we could all go out on the water together – it is still sitting in the hallway as yet unchristened. So proving that mothers can be irrational occasionally.

The second family conference resulted in our escape to Washington and hence the title of this post. As Gonzalo came closer we realised that if we could get off the island then in fact we should – we had no experience or skills that would be useful in the clear-up stage and sitting through another prolonged power cut with winds throwing debris in every direction was probably not going to be fun. Flights out last week were fully booked, even the extra flights. Then the airport was closed – they were boarding up windows as we took off.

We spent Friday mostly glued to news, in whatever format we could find it – Facebook, Royal Gazette, Bernews and the island emergency channel broadcasts until at the peak of the storm when all went quiet, with over 30,000 households losing power everything now was focussed on the live video feed from Dockyard – then that stopped too. The dark side of the moon.

We visited the museums along the National Mall. They are amazing – we really needed more than a long weekend. Next year, with all three offspring. I had forgotten how large American portions are – our order from the Chinese takeout last night will feed us for a week at least.

From the news, Bermuda seems to be bouncing back amazingly quickly after Hurricane Gonzalo. The baby born during the storm was not called Gonzalo, nor Harry Kane. No lives were lost as a result of the hurricane so the name will be used again.

The Offspring have returned to UK, with the remnants of Hurricane Gonzalo following close behind. I hear UK has had a rough time even though the storm has lost most of its strength. In some way it might be easier to prepare and protect an island in the middle of the Atlantic than it is to organise a unified response in a larger country. In the immediate aftermath of the first storm, Fay, we met people along the road and out on the beach clearing up debris, and we joined in, as if on some giant island-wide-litter-pick. That seems to characterise Bermuda, everybody joins in. The last bit I will leave to an advert from the local hardware store that reads:

We have available the following items that have arrived today:
Generators – 5500W, 6500W, 7500W, 8000W – Tarps, Rope, Water, Lanterns, Propane, Gas / Diesel Containers, Batteries, Chainsaws, Duct Tape and Plywood.
Wishing you all the best and a quick recovery.

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Incorporated Art

Bermuda is a pretty amazing place for artists – the landscape of vibrant colours passed on the commute into work is almost enough to make anyone stop and pull out a paintbrush. I don’t myself possess a lot of talent when it comes to creating art, at least that’s what I learnt from art lessons at school in the 1970s; but I can appreciate art for both skill and beauty. So I have just visited a small and exclusive art gallery in Hamilton – aka, my husband’s office.

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Canopius is displaying some works from 12 Bermudian artists, a project which has mutual benefits – the artists are able to showcase and sell their work and Canopius can expect a 15% increase in efficiency from their staff. (1)

Many offices have an excess of glass windows with movable partitions instead of walls, but the Canopius office lends itself to displaying art with virtually one long wall along the length of the building. I am not sure for how long each display will be exhibited, but the plan is to refresh the artwork regularly.

Canopius Head Office (image: Alan Williams, The Guardian)

Canopius Head Office (image: Alan Williams)

As you can see from the above image, the company has used an artistic flair elsewhere – the London office in the Lloyds Building has an arresting reception area with plush-pink-cushioned chairs, pedestal columns topped with Romanesque busts (2)

So it perhaps a natural derivative for the Bermuda office to branch out into the aesthetics of corporate art.

I will need a larger house if I am going to buy one of these!

I will need a larger house if I am going to buy one of these!

But if decorating the office leads to higher productivity, then one company has taken a risk by selecting a board of 1,200 Lego Minifigures as its corporate artwork. (3)

Reception area

Reception area

Bermudian Artists currently on display in the Bermuda office at Atlantic House, Hamilton:

Artists on display, October 2014

Artists on display, October 2014

Images, unless stated, are my own, taken with permission from Canopius, Bermuda.

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Ref: 

1. Knight, C.P., & Haslam, S.A. (2010). The Relative Merits of Lean, Enriched, and Empowered Offices: An Experimental Examination of the Impact of Workspace Management, Journal of Experimental: Applied, 16, 158 – 172.(http://www.identityrealization.com/app/…/2010+JEP+Space+Experiments.pdf )

2. Guardian: Hidden Spaces, June 2008
http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2008/jun/19/exhibition

3. Qubic Tax Project
http://www.acrylicize.com
http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/acrylicize-lego-people-wall

People are very gullible. They’ll believe anything they see in print. (Charlotte’s Web, EB White)

Autumn news in UK is full of scary spider stories because that’s the time of year they all come in from the cold. It made me smile to read one such in a Bermuda paper – a possible sighting of black widow spiders on the benches outside the new hospital wing. The government entomologist has declared them to be brown widow with a less painful nip – so that’s alright then!

Last year, on one of my first exploration rambles I almost had a full blown panic as I walked into a huge sticky web connecting two branches at least 3 feet apart, with a very scary-looking spiky spider sitting in the centre:

Spiny-backed orb weaving spider

Spiny-backed orb weaving spider

Locally they call it a crab spider, for obvious reasons; it is a spiny backed orb weaving spider.

Did you know that the eponymous spider in Charlotte’s Web was an orb weaver? The author, EB White, spent some time living on Bermuda and it would have been a romantic connection if he had got the idea from these crab spiders, but it is more likely he saw the related barn spiders in his own childhood home and Charlottes “full name” in the book was “Charlotte Aranea Cavatica” linking her to another species of orb weavers.

The big spider in the centre is the female and somewhere near the edge a male or two will be biding his time for an opportunity to mate with her, a process reported to take up to 35 minutes. Sadly six hour’s later he pops his clogs and even the female only lives long enough to secure her egg sac under a low lying leafy plant. The teenage crab spiders wait in the undergrowth until they are big enough and scary enough to build webs out in the open – the appearance is all bluff, they are not poisonous and don’t bite.

If you want a poisonous spider on Bermuda then clean out the warm dark cupboards or sheds: the brown recluse likes to hide in cardboard boxes and shoes ( one reason I may invest in plastic shoe boxes). They aren’t good at web design and their tangled chaotic creations don’t catch much so they go out to hunt at night. They are not endemic to Bermuda, rather expats with work permits – they will eat cockroaches, so that’s a reason to leave them alone and let them live their reclusive lives. If you do get bitten then you probably need to seek medical advice because up to 50% of bites will turn nasty, some becoming necrotic. However, such bites are really not common – nothing in local news until you go back some 6 years. To identify your brown recluse it will have only 6 eyes and on its back a dark pattern in the shape of a violin, hence its common name “fiddleback”.

Brown Recluse Spider By Ladyb695 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Another solitary spider found in Bermuda, again a recent import, is the wolf spider or hunting spider.  The best time to find one of these is at night, armed with a torch, though I haven’t actually done this yet. Of their 8 eyes, one pair has a reflective lining, so like cat’s eyes they light up and glare back at you; a whole nest and I would be seriously creeped out! Have you ever read the book “The Haunting of Toby Jugg” – an old Dennis Wheatley story that my husband read to me once (I love being read to) – Toby, not only haunted by a hairy-multi-legged creature that he believes to be the devil, is also visited by a plague of smaller satanic spiders – in my imagination these are the slightly furry-looking wolf spiders with luminescent green eyes!

Wolf Spider By Bidgee (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


But far more likely inside your house will be “Daddy-Long-Legs” spiders – not the crane flies that the British identify as DLL, but leggy fast moving harmless spiders whose untidy webs rely on an element of confusion and panic rather than any stickiness or strength to catch prey. These are useful spiders – they eat ants, albeit leaving the residue husk in a give-away pile on the floor under the web, but that has to be better than trying to track the source of a long line of ants with the nasty-smelling insecticide spray poised for attack.

Cellar Spider or Daddy Long Legs Spider    (one of my own)

Cellar Spider or Daddy Long Legs Spider
(one of my own)

That leaves just the wonderfully named “golden silk spider“, huge and quite scary looking with a colourful abdomen and hairy legs – you have to look up, they hang webs in trees, high up when the weather is good, low down when storms are on the way – hence their common name “hurricane spiders”. Their webs are huge, maybe a metre across with even longer support strands so they can span across the width of a Bermudian road. I have been out these past two days trying to get a photo of one but I guess there could be a storm coming as there are none to be seen. (If I can find a photo with Creative Commons rights then it will be here:

Golden Silk Spider By http://www.birdphotos.com (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

If not try Wikipedia! )

So finding a non-native black widow spider queueing for hospital outpatients is an unusual occurrence, even if it was brown, not black.
Bermuda definitely does not have “spiders large as saucers lurking in the dresser” (JK Rowling, Harry Potter #5)

Bermuda for the mobility-impaired visitor

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Last week I discovered how difficult Bermuda can be for visitors with any degree of impaired mobility – my mother-in-law came to stay. We actually had a lovely week but not without some problems and disappointments relating to accessibility.

Although Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory it is not covered by any of the British discrimination acts (Equality Act, 2010) and the island has no protective equivalent to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). It seems that if not compulsory then many businesses are slow to make provision for the disabled and this includes tourist attractions.

Arrival
But first a word of praise: The staff of both British Airways and Bermuda Airport were excellent.
We pre-booked a wheelchair for both ends, wondering if it might be a bit over-the-top since in normal day-to-day UK life she only occasionally uses a stick, but of course sometimes the distances and obstacles one encounters at an airport would challenge even a triathlete. The “with-wheelchair” status was as good as a “beat-the-queues” ticket at Disney World and we were prioritised at immigration and offered help retrieving our luggage. The Bermudian welcome was outstanding.

Now that stick that I mentioned – well in case it “wasn’t permitted” as hand luggage it had not made its way into the packing and so one of the first things we had to do was to find a stick. It isn’t as easy as one might hope but the pharmacy in St George’s offered a small choice and the one I purchased was collapsible, adjustable and right-handed – perfect.

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Hamilton
For those who don’t know, Hamilton is on a hill and the only flat street is probably Front Street. I learned that
HILL + HEAT + HUMIDITY = NO-WAY
The slope up from City Hall to the Cathedral is deceptive, it is a good job that churches tend to be cool inside. If you then want to walk down to the harbour, Burnaby Street is steep – Queen Street is more gentle, but even that on the way up is hard-going. We did find a lift in the Wellington Centre which delivers you to three steps up from the Reid Street level which can be achieved with the wheelchair lift beside the steps. Many of the shops, however, could not be easily navigated, the old buildings have multiple levels and steps in all sorts of places, only some of those steps with hand rails.

St George’s
I volunteer for Bermuda National Trust and would like to say nice things but neither of their museums in St George’s are accessible to the mobility-impaired visitor. Tucker House has several steps at the entrance with more inside and The Globe Rogues and Runners displays are all on the upper level. Even more disappointing was St Peter’s Church – a long steep flight of steps at the front with no handrails and although they have a rear entrance through the graveyard, the road behind, Church Lane, is resident-parking only, and I could hardly leave my Mother-in-law balancing on her stick or perched on a gravestone while I parked ¼ mile away. Water Street and Kings Square are accessible, but elsewhere in the town take care with uneven surfaces, lack of pavements and narrow roads.

Dockyard
This visit was a success until we reached the Commissioner’s House – or, more accurately, didn’t reach it. There are two slopes up – one narrow but steep, the other wide … but steep. Having been there before I did know this but was disappointed that it wasn’t mentioned as we paid our steep (!) entrance fees – after all the entrance is for the Museum of Bermuda and most of that museum is IN the Commissioner’s House.

I shall simplify things and give you a list, since I guess some of you reading this will have landed here considering a trip to Bermuda with a mobility impaired traveller:

Not accessible:
Crystal Caves – probably obvious that there are no elevators in old caves!
Fort St Catherine – on three levels with lots of stairs, possible entrance to one level by wheelchair
Alexandra Battery – view from ground level only
St David’s Lighthouse – again probably obvious, some views from outside.
Admiralty House Park – steep slope and steps
Commissioner’s House
Sea Glass Beach
Most of South Shore beaches
Spittal Pond – uneven and hilly
Warwick Pond
Abbot’s Cliff – too steep, no path
Ferry Point Park and Martello Tower – ground too uneven

Manageable with help:
Ferry Point Park – rough uneven ground
Paget Marsh – boardwalk slippery after rain and no clear path across the grass to the start
John Smith’s Bay – parking and ramp down to sand
Elbow Beach – if accessed via hotel grounds; public access by steps only
Botanical Gardens – some parts accessible on level ground; wheelchair with “pusher”
Some parts of Railway Trail – but parking a problem
Fort Hamilton – steps to access views of city, cannot access moat path
City Hall
Sessions House
Verdmont – ground floor only
Shelly Bay
Blue Hole Park – first part only
Bermuda Historical Society Museum – ground floor only
Good access:
Spanish Point Park – gentle walk, wheelchair suitable; view the Floating Dry Dock
Gibb’s Lighthouse – at least good for ground level, great views, can park close by
Masterworks – ramp down to entrance, lift inside, toilets on ground floor
Front Street
Aquarium and Zoo
The best place we visited was the Aquarium and Zoo where the paths were well kept and easy to navigate, the ground generally level and wash rooms accessible. Masterworks might have come a close second but they were closed for changing the exhibit, and rather frustratingly did not inform the “Nothing to do in Bermuda” website which is where most attractions and activities are listed.

Transport is an issue if you are not staying with residents who have a car –
Buses do not have wheelchair ramps and because there are few pavements in most instances you will have to mount 1-2 steps to get on the bus
Taxis are often mini-vans requiring a step up
Ferries – not all are suitable for disabled passengers
There is no car rental permitted on the island
Mobility scooters are not permitted on the roads
Pavements are random, will disappear or change sides frequently
Roads are narrow, windy and hilly, not very suitable for pedestrians

So if you are considering Bermuda for a mobility-impaired visitor it will need some careful planning and you may not be able to experience some of the attractions.

Once we understood the issues we had a good time, we thought ahead and did a lot of “drive-by” sightseeing. Clearly a success as planning a second visit next year.IMG_0623

A rendezvous in Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo
Mention September and Monte Carlo in the same sentence, you are probably talking about the Reinsurance Rendezvous. On that Saturday morning, if you work in the industry, you will probably know a good 50% of the people waiting in the BA lounge at Gatwick. There are few empty seats and the chatter-levels are high. A fair proportion with tickets to Nice will have arrived on the overnight flight from Bermuda – reinsurance is big in Bermuda, really big. Something to do with tax efficiency, which is not the same as tax avoidance.

MC must benefit to the tune of millions of euros by this annual get-together. Even at an agreed reduced-event-rate, the hotels are charging upwards of €600 per night and there don’t appear to be any cheap hotels or B&Bs in Monaco. I am not complaining – it is really very pleasant: bathrooms the size of living rooms, Flatscreen TV bigger than your own at home, sheets and towels renewed daily – white of course, and that totally excessive “turn-down service” ( not “tuck-in service” which is something else entirely, not for company expenses) Maybe not at all surprising that this is a popular event for CPE.

So what do you actually do here? I asked my husband. Meetings. The in-phrase seems to be “back-to-back meetings” implying an impossible degree of busyness. Then after these presumably exhausting espresso-fuelled conversations the best-of-the-best will move on to working-the crowd at back-to-back cocktail parties, finding a brief window for a five course dinner and a networking bottle of wine.

I am wrong though. It is actually a form of multitasking, an efficient way of cramming in multiple discussions and decisions into 24 hours. Contrast a normal day in the office with perhaps a few filtered phone calls, maybe a conference call with PowerPoint croissants and dozens of unfiltered emails. A Monte Carlo day can be an exhilarating achievement.

For me, a plus-one of the traditional type, it is a few days of unadulterated people-watching. A bench in the park behind sunglasses with bottle of water and ipad. What could be more pleasant?

Then we arrive at the last night, the board dinner. Though partners are not generally included there are enough of us in MC to inspire a generous invitation and the evening does not disappoint. A restaurant that includes on-the-vine tomatoes in its floral displays; a greenhouse ambience belies indescribable foods and for dessert they hand out tambourines with hats; we eat, sing and drink until the taxi carries us away.

Until next year.

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BA 2232

I can’t help but notice, as we skim across the Atlantic clouds that some people are incredibly neat sleepers. Blanket-cocooned question marks. I on the other hand am a restless hippo, exposing in turn bare feet, bare midriff or both in a simultaneous loss of decorum. When I wake in the morning my blanket has crawled across the aisle offering allegiance to someone else. Of course it isn’t actually morning; we find ourselves in an artificial time zone of compressed hours, each a fragment shorter than the last, delineated by the rattle of a food trolley. My internal clock refuses to accept the reality of time travel and my eyelids actually feel heavy.

In the rush-half-hour queues for the toilet I forget my little bag of refreshing creams and potions so am forced to dry clean my teeth once back in my seat, the toothpaste thickly refusing to spread. Then I make the error of sampling the other goodies in my pale blue flight pack: the pro-collagen marine cream is now moisturising my creased linen trousers which never do work on an overnight flight. There is nowhere to put the used apricot facial wipe and my fingers all slippery in their marine makeover cannot open the lip salve.

Living abroad has taken some of the gloss off international flights and what once gave me a Cheshire-cat grin (free champagne, serviettes and real plates) is now almost resistible. But I lack the willpower to decline supper completely like some frequent flyers; a glass of red wine will always win. So while they caught an extra ninety minutes of sleep I fidgeted and played with the remote control. Mahi-mahi, sometimes called dolphin but not related, with wilted spinach, which is a good thing by the way though it maybe doesn’t sound so; yes worth sacrificing extra shut-eye when I was that side of the Atlantic, but right now I wish I had slept instead – by some measures the flight is really too short.

Background moments cause brief flashes of familiarity in my memory – the BA music in the safety video, the inrush of cold air on my feet as I flush the toilet, the unmannerly crush to get off the plane first. Then the long walk to passport check and baggage claim. My old style passport lacks an electronic code so I queue for the human check, smile pasted on top of my non-interactive morning self.

The baggage carousel dances and finally ejects our matching wheeled backpacks. We actually have lots of these, it’s one of our joint shopping weaknesses to buy neat versatile luggage and of course, like the middle-aged couple in the old UK TV series Ever Decreasing Circles, we choose to coordinate, though maybe not our clothes these days. Practice runs in packing determine which size we choose and, as usual, my inability to leave out just-in-case-clothes means the smaller bags rarely enjoy vacations.

So, as you surmised, I am off island for a trip. As we left a storm was building up in the Caribbean and this morning has earned a name: Edouard, on track for the Bermuda bypass.

Odontosyllis enopia

I did see it, honest!

I did see it, honest!

Well, that was my attempt  to capture on film the most amazing mating process ever. It has not been blacked out for decency sake – just demonstrates iPhone limitations!

Odontosyllis enopia, a teethed and necklaced worm; 10-20mm long they live in the sandy bottoms of coastal water around Bermuda. For the most part nobody would know they were there and they don’t do much. Then on the 2nd and third nights after full moon, at 56 minutes after sunset, they put on the performance of their lives. The female appears first, spinning in excited circles of fluorescent green.  Then the males are supposed to come zooming up to the surface, he glows when he finds her – powerful chemical attraction going on – then, well, she releases eggs and he releases sperm and off they go back home, job done.

July and Augusts are supposedly the best months to see it but last August was a washout so we tried our luck last night.  We saw several over a period of ten minutes, popping up in the shelter of the dock and by the slipway. Magic!

Sorry I can’t show you!

A license plate to belong

I learnt last week that our car number plate is probably as valuable as the car itself, possibly more with the new scratch the shopping trolley made this morning as it fought for independence.

I read a local blog a few weeks ago where he (presumption on my part since he devotes a whole post to complaining about women drivers) ranted somewhat about the “old grannies” driving around the island – these are identifiable not by the fact that they drive small cars, or that their heads may be completely hidden by the headrests because they are short, but by the number plate beginning with “0”. So by his definition I am an “old granny” – I beg to differ with respect to both.

05844

05844

The number plate 05844 was issued to the 5844th car licensed in or shortly after 1975. Now obviously that’s not my car which I was assured by the friend who sold it to us is a 2008 Kia Picanto. (Don’t laugh, there isn’t much choice out here) So someone way back has retained this number plate and transferred it to a new car, maybe it has been on more than one car in the past 40 years. It could well be on a different car again in a few years time as we had a “let us know when you are selling it” request that definitely pertained to the license plate and not the car.

I think I understand the statement of belonging that an old plate carries. Twice now in one of the Front Street shops I have been asked “Are you on the ship?” and I immediately want to disown that possibility: I am local, I have a driving licence, a car, I belong here. But there is a hierarchy of belonging to Bermuda and I am at the very bottom, merely passing through. To want to belong is a compliment, to the country, the people. Though I have been an ex-pat for just over a year I know that a need to fit in and be part of your adopted country attaches itself to you as you get off the plane. The day we arrived and joined the “work-permits” queue at immigration it felt like a confirmation of sorts, as if we had achieved a qualification.

For now, as I drive around in a non-statement-making-Kia-Picanto, I shall enjoy the notion that the old number plate is a disguise. I shall aim to drive in a fashion that does not feed the ranting local blogger, does not give fuel to the old/granny/woman-driver stereotype.

Oh yes, on some journeys I join in that ranting – at the apparent inability to indicate, the suicidal stubbornness of a bike holding the middle lane, at a 50mph overtake across the yellow line. Since using a horn merely means “Hi” I am bereft of a frustration indicator, but exclaiming “What on earth…?” in questioning crescendo serves to defuse into a bemusement – after all, “This is Bermuda!”

Moldy Warp

What began as a simple packing-for-holiday exercise yesterday has turned into a full scale clean-the-house weekend. I am taking a breather now and surfing a euphonic google-trip as I search for ways to remove mould from a wool suit.

MOULD or MOLD? The middle-english variation MOHLD is more aesthetic.

The lifecycle of this saprophytic filamentous mycelium is as elegant as the words used to describe it – just look up the wikipedia page on hyphae and you are confronted with the phrase

the arbuscules of mutualistic mycorrhizal fungi

I have only a wild-guess idea as to what that means but elocution lessons with Miss Clutterbuck would have been more fun using the language of fungi. (kikekokekoo – my sole memory of those lessons, but yes she really was called that)

I first read that mould is a problem on Bermuda over a year ago from the pink book Tea with Tracey but up until today had arrogantly assumed “of course it’s a problem if you don’t keep your home clean” :O

Now I have found my own mould I will get off my podium and admit I was ignorant. :$

There is no shortage of web advice on prevention –

  • air circulation – makes it harder for spores to settle, so fans on and create a cross draft
  • light – after all, mushrooms are grown in the dark, cupboard doors open and lights on
  • clothes circulation – rotate wardrobe and chuck what you don’t wear (beginning to enjoy this)
  • keep it clean – sweat = fungi food, (enzymatic wash vs eczema, thats a harder choice)
  • closet heaters – takes moisture out of clothes, new use for the hairdryer maybe
  • dehumidifiers – air con on dry cycle and small units in the cupboards

Not such useful advice for solving the problem –

  • toothbrush dipped in bleach – maybe not on husbands best suit
  • white vinegar – will the brown stuff work too or does it have to be white?
  • make a paste with baking soda – I don’t bake (another embarrassing confession)
  • borax, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, grapefruit juice – nope, not in my cupboards
  • spray with tea tree oil – hmmm, sure he will love going to work with that aroma

Then I came across a serious site that advocated disposing of any clothes with visible mould.
Our mould is most definitely clearly visible:

Mould: a coating or discoloration caused by various saprotrophic fungi that develop in a damp atmosphere on the surface of stored food, fabrics, wallpaper....

Mould: a coating or discoloration caused by various saprotrophic fungi that develop in a damp atmosphere on the surface of stored food, fabrics, wallpaper…. .. actually doesn’t look quite this bad on the hanger!

I read on, pulled into the story of biodeterioration by hydrophobic spores of Aspergillus, opportunistic pathogens, aflatoxins and extrinsic allergic alveolitis. That last field has really expanded since I was in med school when I am sure it was just called Farmer’s Lung.

My conclusion is : the suit must go!

IMG_0510

Suits – awaiting verdict

Moldy Warp?
Just a play on words.

Old English for mole.
Molde = soil
Weorpan = to throw

moltwerf ( old German); muldvarp (old Danish)

Moldy Warp the Mole lives nearby in his cosy underground house. One day, he finds a tiny square stone painted with a golden eye and realises that it must be part of a bigger picture, from a long time ago. There is nothing Moldy Warp loves better than finding things.

 

Moldy Warp The Mole: My 1966 copy of Alison Uttley's book from The Little Grey Rabbit Series.  Written in 1940.

Moldy Warp The Mole: My 1966 copy of Alison Uttley’s book from The Little Grey Rabbit Series. Written in 1940.

Please may I have your kidney?

Polycystic Kidney Disease

Today, September 4th is the American National Polycystic Kidney Disease Awareness Day (PKD)

It’s important to me because I have polycystic kidney disease.

Poly = many
Cystic = fluid filled spaces

In essence, instead of containing healthy functioning nephrons, the kidneys become non-functioning organs composed of many cysts.

There are different types but the more common is Autosomal Dominant PKD. 1-2 people in every 1000.

It’s genetic, inherited – I was born with it. My mother had it, her father, his mother … That’s as far back as we know.
“Autosomal dominant” means the abnormal gene is not on the X or Y chromosomes but on one of the others, and that having just one copy alone means you are affected. It also means there is a 1 in 2 chance (50%) that you will pass the gene onto your child.
If you are quick thinking you will have realised that for each of my children there was a 1 in 2 chance that I passed it on to them.
They know that. It’s a story we all live with even if it’s one I haven’t often told.

What happens is that over the years the kidneys, which are designed to filter and maintain a chemical balance in the blood, struggle and eventually fail.

Academically I find the physiology behind all this quite fascinating, but maybe that’s a defence mechanism by which I avoid the more emotional aspects of certain kidney failure.

The overwhelmed kidney gets confused and sends out messages that raise the blood pressure and that just makes the whole situation worse. The PKD patient will encounter antihypertensives early on and, although you know they are a “good thing”, you sometimes wonder if they don’t make you tired and slow. It’s a complex picture, other parts of the body step up in an effort to correct the disequilibrium but, not designed to do the work of a kidney, they muddy the field even more.

In medical school we were taught that a body can lose up to 90% of kidney function and still “go on”. It may mathematically be so, but I suspect that most patients with chronic kidney disease will experience some indication of impairment quite a bit before they reach the 10%-left-point. Nowadays the measure of renal effectiveness is the estimated glomerular filtration rate (EGFR). The downward curve below 60 is arguably more predictable than the stars, at least the astrological ones if not the astronomical. When it falls below 15 then you probably need some outside help: dialysis or transplant. Dialysis is just a holding measure.

Today in Britain there are 5616 people on the kidney waiting list. Actually phrasing it that way, on a waiting list, somehow distances it from the reality – there are 5616 people waiting for a kidney. So far this year there have been only 478 deceased donors. Just 703 kidney transplants have been performed this year. The numbers don’t compute perfectly because some donated kidneys aren’t usable and then some patients are fortunate to have living donations. But over 5000 people go to bed at the end of each day disappointed, more than disappointed, desolate.

On Bermuda the figures are smaller but tell a similar story. In fact it may be a sadder version because only 4 or 5 Bermudians each year will be lucky enough to have a kidney transplant. This week the dialysis unit on Bermuda will keep 160 people alive. Most of them will not get that longed for telephone call to tell them an organ match is waiting. Last year one of them did get the call but she couldn’t get to Boston in time for the operation and the kidney went to someone else.  It is too painful to imagine how she must have felt. 

Joseph Murray (1919-2012) was the surgeon who performed the first successful human kidney transplant, December 23rd 1954. He worked at Brigham Hospital in Boston. For this and subsequent work in the field he received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1990. In 2012, coincidentally and sadly the year Joseph Murray died, my daughter, then a medical student at SGUL, was involved in the development of a teaching case for their new approach of using PBL (problem based learning) and virtual patients for the delivery of the ethics curriculum. The virtual patient was named Joseph Murray. The scenario involved organ donation, permissions, dealing with relatives – if you want to try working through the case it is freely available, even has a video (look out for the patient’s mother – closest I will get to an OSCAR)

I was at home yesterday and in the unforgiving midday heat I sought respite inside and without any guilt at all sat watching TV. My selection, via AppleTV/UnblockUS/BBCiPlayer was a programme on tissue and organ procurement, The Human Tissue Squad.

It left me wondering just how organ and tissue donation works on Bermuda. Clearly it isn’t a big enough country to run it’s own procurement programme and there are no facilities for transplant surgery on island. So what happens?

Since proximity to US dictates a link to American healthcare, even though actually a British Overseas territory, Bermuda is part of the New England Organ Bank. So Bermudians can be organ and tissue donors – forms from doctors, TCD and post offices. But there must be huge logistical problems with a 3 hour flight each way to Boston, the closest transplant centre. In US and UK the donor-recipient distance has an effect on allocations and on outcome.  

I was surprised to read about the differences in allocation processes between US and UK. In the States the system is to be enhanced to include a donor index which acknowledges that some kidneys are better than others for factors not relating to the specifics of tissue matching. Bluntly, the non-smoking-kidney will probably be better suited to the new job description.

A person where I once worked had a strange way of paying a compliment with “That’s a nice jumper. Can I have it when you die?” We all laughed, politely, if a little nervously.

Yes, you can have all my jumpers when I die – I won’t have much use for them myself.
But, you know that kidney? Can I have it when you die?

Onion feet

You know how when you concentrate on a word or say it several times it sometimes sounds odd, as if it has become attached to the wrong meaning and you worry you have been using it inappropriately for years? Semantic satiation. I went to bed last night thinking about furniture feet, woke up thinking it too, and now the word feet seems such a strange one to apply to things on chairs. Most things with legs and feet use them for mobility, a chair is the very opposite of mobile. They should be called underpinnings with substructures.

An onion foot, a sturdy base for a heavy piece of furniture, not common after 1720.

An onion foot, a sturdy base for a heavy piece of furniture, not common after 1720.

You might have seen the one behind the onion foot is a ball-and-claw foot, but that comes later and I am going to put some chronological order into the post.

Jacobean style, a 17th century chair with unadorned stretchers between the feet. Only the masters of the household had chairs, everyone else had stools.

Jacobean style, a 17th century chair with unadorned stretchers between the feet. Only the masters of the household had chairs, everyone else had stools.

Simplicity of style indicates an early chair. The legs are supported by stretchers.

Simplicity of style indicates an early chair. The legs are supported by stretchers. There are no feet.

Legs are turned and stretchers more ornate. William and Mary  period 1689-1720

Legs are turned and stretchers more ornate. William and Mary period 1689-1720

Queen Anne style overlaps, 1702-1755, more refined and with shapely legs – cabriole legs, an s-shaped curve where the bump near the seat is called a knee. They don’t sound so elegant when one learns that cabrioler is French for running like a goat. The advantage of a cabriole leg is that it doesn’t need stretchers for additional support. That makes the following image unusual -it has both a cabriole leg and stretchers.

Cabriole leg, simple curved knee, pad foot but strangely also with stretcher.

Cabriole leg, simple curved knee, pad foot but strangely also with stretcher.

Hoof-like foot, sometimes called a Spanish foot.

Hoof-like foot, sometimes called a Spanish foot.

Another style of hoof foot

Another style of hoof foot

Simple pad-feet on a cabriole leg

Simple pad-feet.

It was common for the back legs to be simpler and undecorated while the front feet on show displayed the good craftsmanship.

It was common for the back legs to be simpler and undecorated while the front feet on show displayed the good craftsmanship.

Now this is where the ball-and-claw foot comes in. They appear on furniture from both Queen Anne and the later (174-1760) Georgian style.

Beautifully carved ball and claw foot

Beautifully carved ball and claw foot. It is raised off the uneven floor.

Another ball and claw foot.  The similarity with the first one might be indicate a similar origin - both are Bermudian pieces from the early 18th century.

Another ball and claw foot. The similarity with the first one might be indicate a similar origin – both are Bermudian pieces from the early 18th century.

A trifid foot, like an animal paw. These may have been influenced by Irish styles of the 18th century. They are sometimes called Drake feet.

A trifid foot, like an animal paw. These may have been influenced by Irish styles of the 18th century. They are sometimes called Drake feet.

More utilitarian furniture is influenced from Pennsylvanian Dutch style, 1720-1830, and commonly these had straight unadorned legs with no feet.

No feet

No feet

Everyone has heard of Chippendale chairs. They tend to be more ornate than Queen Anne chairs, but they share similar feet. Carving on the cabriole knee is more likely in a Chippendale.

Delicately carved cabriole knee

Delicately carved cabriole knee

American fashion liked brass claw feet. We are now in the early 1800s.

American fashion liked brass claw feet. We are now in the early 1800s.

Not sure this can really be called a foot, a bracket. The draw handles are of batwing design so from Queen Anne or Chippendale.

Not sure this can really be called a foot, a bracket. The draw handles are of batwing design so from Queen Anne or Chippendale.

Marching feet: back and front feet face the same direction

Marching feet: back and front feet face the same direction

Bow legs with stubby feet (note that is not a technical description)

Bow legs with stubby feet (note that is not a technical description)

Rather small brass feet on turned spindle legs

Rather small brass feet on turned spindle legs

Six onion feet

Six onion feet

All pictures taken with permission in preparation of room guides for the Bermuda National Trust property, Verdmont. If you want to see the whole pieces of furniture to which these feet belong then Verdmont is open Wednesday through Friday from 10am to 4pm and is just $5 entrance fee. I am sorry that the air fare to Bermuda is a little more costly than that.

Bathysphere

I don’t know about you, but the idea of climbing through a 14 inch window to be sealed into a metal sphere just 4’6” across and allowing this to be lowered to 3,500 feet deep in the Atlantic Ocean can be classified in the “not for me” section of my imagination. Don’t worry, it isn’t something I have tried or intend to do while I am out here. The connection to Bermuda is that this occurred off Nonsuch Island in the early 1930s.

A few months back on a rainy Sunday the local TV was showing a short documentary film about the underwater pioneers William Beebe and Otis Barton. I was intrigued.

I found out more from a book “Descent”
(not the horror film, board game or role-playing MMO, a plain old fashioned book)

I’ve given you a link because it seems to be a popular title for a book.

Then another book by William Beebe himself

Half Mile Down – available on Open Library

This one is more fun to read and has pictures:

Beebe's drawing of a diver

Beebe’s drawing of a diver

William Beebe was a scientist and for many years had worked for the New York Zoological Society. He was in fact 55 when he undertook the Bathysphere project. He was the David Attenborough of his day, described as “enthusiastic, charming and charismatic” . But he was also “intolerant of mediocrity”, which comes across in his book when he claims that divers should be “inarticulate with amazement” at what they had seen or they didn’t deserve to dive again.

He needed the specific knowledge of Otis Barton, an engineer, for Beebe’s plan was to use a steel cylinder 7 foot long with a glass window. If I had done better at my A level physics I might have been able to explain why that wouldn’t work, but it involves maths and the very thought of it takes me back to exams in the school gym with the impossible-to-climb ropes dangling menacingly above as my sweating hands struggle with the impossible-to-solve problem.

History simplified

History simplified according to William Beebe

The historical context to the Bathysphere is that diving bells had been used successfully since the 17th century. Halley, of comet fame, had designed one to hold 5 people and descend to 60 feet. The deepest a submarine had reached was 383 feet. No living man had sunk below 600 feet. Beebe and Barton reached a depth of 1426 feet on their first dive – ¼ mile.

The Bathysphere off Nonsuch Island, Bermuda

The Bathysphere off Nonsuch Island, Bermuda (illustration from Beebe’s book)

The windows were made of quartz, 3” thick and 8” diameter, through which they perceived the diminishing spectrum and thimble-sized jellyfish. I would have been disappointed with jellyfish. Further down they were rewarded with iridescent lanternfish, flying snails, pilot fish, puffer fish – all of which might seem commonplace now we can visit aquariums with 8-million gallon tanks. Of course they didn’t have iPhones to take photos so Beebe drew what he had seen after each dive. Some of the creatures such as the “pallid sailfish” and “3-star angelfish” haven’t actually been seen since so maybe his drawings contained an element of imagination.

By the mid 1930s the depression meant they ran out of money. The deepest they reached was 3028 feet on August 15th 1934.

William Beebe lived long enough to know about the later designed Bathyscaphe Trieste reaching a depth of 35,797 feet in 1960. He died in 1962 aged 85.  Otis Barton died in 1992 aged 93.

Their legacies include:

Titans of the Deep – a semi-documentary made in 1938 starring themselves

Sounding the Deep – inspired by the story of Beebe
a musically uncomfortable performance from Hull Philharmonic Orchestra
(not to be confused with the meditation music of the same name by David Williams)

More than 20 publications by Beebe on submarine life

Benthoscope – designed by Barton, an updated version of the bathysphere in which he reached a depth of 4500 feet in 1949.

Now in 2014 there are plans for a manned exploration of the Mariana Trench and other projects on how to live underwater for longer periods of time. It is as exciting as outer space, but seems to get less publicity.

You can find out more about the bathysphere at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute: BUEI, a museum almost hidden away, but well worth a visit, especially if its raining outside.

Whistling Tree Frogs

Eleutherodactylus johnstonei

It has been raining a lot in Bermuda these past two weeks – apparently 9 inches so far in August. So the whistling tree frogs have been squeaking by day as well as by night. For such tiny creatures they make an almighty racket.

I have read that they were an accidental introduction to the island at some point during the late 1800s, from the Lesser Antilles. I had to look up where that was – seems to be the Eastern islands of the Caribbean, the ones that include Barbados and Jamaica.

For something that makes soo much noise they are absolutely tiny:

10-25mm long

10-25mm long

There are over 180 species of Eleutherodactylus frogs.
They are listed on the IUCN “red list” meaning they are under some threat of extinction. It is a low grade threat for the E. johnstonei, though for another species once found in Bermuda, the E. gossei, the culture shock was clearly too great and none have been seen here since 1994.

Other names for them are “Rain Frogs” which makes sense, but also “Robber Frogs” which is, according to wikipedia, because of the noise they make – never met a robber personally but I somehow doubt they make that much noise.

I wanted to find out how they actually make the noise and came across “Frog Forum” where I was totally sidetracked by the story of the whistling frog that didn’t whistle – it has a sad ending 😦
I was none the wiser about why the noise is so loud but have learned that only the male frogs peep, in part to attract a mate and in part to defend their territory.  I presume they inflate their throat sac to amplify the sound. I came across an academic article describing an experiment to ascertain the female tree frog’s preference in whistles – long and loud was the conclusion. Their ears have evolved such that the female will hear a very narrow range of frequencies due to the specific anatomy, while the male is possibly deaf to most things! (there’s a joke in there somewhere)

A kids biology site  enlightened me on their reproduction:- the eggs provide a one stop shop resulting in mini frogs hatching, no tadpole stage. The hatching apparently looks like a mass melting leaving small frogs who jump off pretty quickly – sadly not yet captured on YouTube. Male frogs watch over the eggs which the female leaves in wet flower pots or walls or under wet stones. Interestingly the period until the egg hatches is variable and can depend on external triggers. This phenomenon is phenotype plasticity, not genetic. So within the one genus Eleutherodactylus are a whole range of reproductive behaviours – hatching as tadpoles or froglets with tails or mini adult frogs. The just-hatched-tree frogs must be minuscule – I will need a magnifying glass on my next tree-frog-hunt, Dora eat your hat!

On occasion one of the little critters (in the middle of the night aka little blighters) makes an exploratory jump indoors. You can hear it … but finding it and catching it is another matter entirely. And because its probably as humid indoors as out then they don’t seem to have the sense to head towards an open window.

On balance I like the whistling frogs. In case I miss them on return to UK I have downloaded an mp3 file. There are lots to choose from, one even entitled “Trilling tree frogs for inner health and tranquility”. You can even get them singing Christmas songs

I think this one is female

I think this one is female

Maybe it is easier to record my own audio.  🙂