Saturday, 29 November 2008

The year seems to be rushing to a close at an incredible rate. Just a couple of weeks ago I was recounting some of the summertime events – now I find myself grateful for the brightly glowing coals in the open fire, whilst starting to reflect on the year - and the year’s birds.

Orkney is a pretty small collection of rocks situated off the North coast of Scotland but we are graced with some of the most fantastic landscapes and open-sea vistas. And because of our geographical location, erroneously migrant birds regularly find themselves castaway on our not-so deserted islands and, although we have only a score or so regularly active birdwatchers, we also have recently developed a rather effective networking system linking sightings and locations. Anyone with access to the internet can receive an alert whenever rare or unusual species are located. This means two things; folk interested in birds get to know what’s about and where and ‘finders’ have an efficient way to tell others of their success. It breeds a kind of self-propelling birding euphoria.

We have had some really notable birds throughout the year, including a superb white-billed (yellow-billed) diver which, not only has spent the whole summer here, but also appears to be settling down for the winter, too! Rustic and Cretschzmar’s Buntings; rare pipits, warblers and wagtails; and a smattering of gulls and waders. I also found a splendid dark-phase honey buzzard.

But the birds which really caused a stir throughout the county were the waxwings. Certainly not rare, but they are very charismatic these little visitors come from the north. It appears they have had a decent breeding season in Scandinavia and hundreds of these pinky-grey bohemians have descended on and percolated through the British Isles. My first encounter was when a flock of eighteen birds came off the sea and into Stromness, almost taking my head off in the process, their high-pitched ringing-trill calls notifying me of their approach seconds before I saw them. A couple of dozen stayed for a few weeks and their confiding nature meant that I could make close-up field studies, often without the aid of binoculars.

Another uncommon visitor also turned up within a stone’s-throw of my house. A breathless phone-call alerted me to the whereabouts of this nocturnal hunter, snoozing away the last of the daylight in an ancient sycamore just fifty yards from my doorstep. A swift scan of the lower trunk revealed the bird, cryptically marked though it was. Although the last time I saw one of these was several years ago at Denaby Ings, South Yorkshire, the first thing I did having located the bird was set off back down the path to the house to collect Sally and the Nikon scope. Sal doesn’t waste much time bird-watching (unlike some in the family) but she is fanatical about owls, and this is one species she’s never seen – long-eared owl. We stayed and watched the owl, me making a few thumbnail sketches in the near-dark, until the bird had finally had enough and departed its roost for the nocturnal hunt.
Although the bird didn’t return to the same tree the day after, I managed to relocate it in a small copse just a couple of hundred metres further east. Over the next few days I had several memorable encounters with this terrific bird and had the opportunity to make some drawings of it. This series of sketches culminated in a small and expressive painting, inspired not only by my experiences with the bird, but also because it happened to be Sally’s birthday and, as usual, I had to rely on my last-minute ingenuity rather than conscientious forward planning to get me out of potentially hot water!

The realisation that winter is really upon us was finally compounded this week with several inches of snow falling and, in places, staying for a day or two. Purple sandpipers are scuttling along the foreshore in company with starlings (surely waders in disguise) and turnstones. The resident eiders have recently been joined by the long-tailed ducks, having returned from Arctic places of reproduction, and are frolicking around the bays of our Isles; male red-breasted mergansers are bobbing to each other and their mates and goldeneye drakes blurrily shine turquoise-white as they dive in the cold, clear waters around our pier. A first winter Iceland gull appears to be just as at home at the harbour as it was in Greenland, where it was hatched as a chick less than 20 weeks ago. This northern youngster also looks to have settled into this new habitat just as well as the white-billed diver did at the beginning of the year.

Friday, 10 October 2008

End of Summer

Our annual holiday is always timed carefully.
Sally usually combines it with collecting something from 'South' (which could mean anywhere from John O'Groats to Adelaide) and so this year Sal and I took the kids to Yorkshire to see their 'other' granny - my mum, Hazel.
I never do bird lists, but I thought I'd mention a few of the raptors; from the 1st two hours of the drive (northern Scotland) were; Sparrowhawk (with prey - starling), common buzzards, goshawk, osprey (x2), kestrel. I didn't get any of the usual 'Orkney' raptors (Short-eared owl, merlin, peregrine or the harriers) as I got the morning boat from Stromness harbour - a drive of approx. 2 minutes from the house, straight through the town.We spent two days in South Yorkshire then travelled across to Manchester where we were collecting our new Ebay purchase, (curtesy of darling wife's internet habit) the trailer tent! Fortunately it was in better than perfect condition and we merrily slooshed up the M6 back towards Scotland. We camped in Ayr where there just happened to be a Race meeting on (lost all my hard-earned, but had a great day), then a further two in Glen Nevis - stunning. Cadjoled the whole family to walk up part of Ben Nevis but as soon as the pub was spotted, we all agreed the midges were too much and made a hasty detour. Amazingly, however, following light refreshments they decided to continue skywards, which we did for another hour or so. Great walk and an extremely steep descent brought us back along the riverside walk to the campsite and 'home'.
Had 2 red kites on the last leg, north of Inverness and also picked up a road-kill common buzzard which was the day's piece on the board.

Back from holiday!
And to find a rather pleasant surprise on the doormat. A letter from Wildscape Magazine informing me that my painting
“Red-throated Divers Nest-Prospecting” has WON AN AWARD! I am thoroughly chuffed.
I am very lucky having an, er, 'understanding' family regarding these unfortunates which end up on the slab, but actuallythe kids are really gruesome and love to see the dead stuff up close. They even spot bundles of feathers and fur from the car - beats I-Spy anyday!

And here is a slightly re-worked painting of the original that won the award.

This is an unfortunate fulmar which I collected from near the Standing Stones of Stenness. I kept it overnight but it had sadly died by the morning. I made a study of the bird both as an artistic statement and for reference at a later date.

Incidentally, here are a few notes on handling dead birds for artistic study purposes:
If they look manky - leave them alone. Most of what I pick up are road kills meaning they were (probably) in fairly good health up until the point that they, er, weren't. They will have (depending on species and individual) a number of mites, lice and other hangers-on which will remain with the host until they find another one. These are pretty specific critters requiring very specialised habitat, so don't worry about them - unless you happen to be dressing up in your best Fulmar-feather outfit - most are very slow-moving and can be cracked with the blunt end of a pencil or brush as they hit the white backing paper (which I like to use as it helps me see the contours and tones better than 'neutral' backgrounds. Reverse side of old wallpaper is good. One type of parasite which lives on rooks is a broad winged flea-type of thing and they are truly gruesome. They appear fom out of the plumage, do a quick once-over round the corpse and disappear back into the feathers - uuuuurrgh! I don't do corvids in the house - they stay outer-doors.One final thing. When using dining table - make sure it's not you sitting where aforementioned specimen was lying previous to setting table - or you could disinfect the table, if you're being especially fussy!regarding catching 'stuff' from dead birds - I suppose the main thing is - don't eat them or suck them. You should be ok then.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Just a word about Fair Isle. Wow!!I'm pretty much used to islands, and I'm pretty used to getting to them by boat, but the trip didn't disappoint. Travelling via the Varagen - one of Orkney Ferries North Isles boats, the first 2 hours were in blanket fog, but this eventually cleared somewhat and, nearly 5 hours after deprture, we squeezed through the seething gap and into North Haven. Arriving to a full pipe band (we brought our own) the islanders welcomed us marvellously. Considering there are only 68 men women kids and oaps, the 30 or so that greeted us was a fair showing, and the rest were busy organising other bits and bobs up at the hall - great start.A quick wander up South Gavel, an adjacent cliffside to the Havens, and into puffin city. I nearly broke an ankle as the ground gave way - a result of energetic subterranean rabbit and puffin activity, virtually honeycombed the whole clifftop. Fair warning, though. A few pages of rubbish sketches and I decided to settle down for a landscape - the light did not behave, though and changed constantly. I made an effort, anyway.Up to the hall and a quick discussion with Holly from the Bird Observatory. Desperate news - their terns and skuas virtually failed before they'd even begun - Christ will this ever change up here???? Anyway, back to the remaining birds - bonxies (Great Skuas) absolutely everywhere and gannets doing really well, so not all gloomy stuff. Went out and spent the remaining time getting bonxied. Found a beautiful pair of Arctic Skuas though and, besides the pale and dark morphs, they also have an intermediate form - these happened to be they! Georgeous birds. Travelled back the way we came - chucked about in an eight-metre swell for a half hour then fairly easy going all way home. Had 11 storm petrels as rocket fly-bys over a period of 30 minutes, so that was fun. Unfortunately no cetaceans at all - probably a tad choppy for decent views. Going back on the very next boat to leave here!!! (that's next year).Today I felt inclined to re-visit the white billed diver. I tied the trip in to collecting a crossbill carcass from a pal for study, but my plans changed as I picked up a road-kill great black-backed gull. It would be very smelly in a fairly short time so the crossbill was refridgerated and the gull got the once-over.
Always sad to find dead birds but I always take the opportunity to study them in a bit of detail.

Only slight downside (birding wise) was the fact that up here in sunny Scotland, it's already the summer holidays, so wherever I go, the kids come too. We have another very special bird up here at the moment – white-billed diver! The diver is actually around the island where we used to live, so it was fairly easy to persuade the girls that we ought to go and see some of their old friends and have a picnic on one of our favourite beaches. I used the beach time to make a colour sketch of a favourite plant - oyster plant. After the beach fun, it was off to Barrier 4 and the white-billed (yellow-billed, or whatever we call it now) diver. I found the bird fairly quickly - but it was a long way away and required a drive of a couple of miles to get any decent views. By this time the kids were playing up, so I had a five minute 'watching only' spell and then away.
Sal had the day off so we took the kids to Birsay for a meal out (hot dog from the green van!!! - scrummy) and whilst they were rockpooling, daddy was observing old friends and making a few drawings. Unlike much of the tern colonies across the isles, this little one with 80 ads has good numbers of growing chicks and food seems to be coming in regualrly too - fingers crossed.Today I had to make a trip to the Old Country - South Ronaldsay (amazingly on the very same day that a rose-coloured starling and white-billed diver were present!) although I have seen both birds recently (well the R-c s was a diferent individual, but you know what I mean). The last viewing of th ediver ws fairly brief and just a voyeur trip. Today's was meant to have a bit more purpose to it and I managed to blag a gaff sitting on an old girl's beach, fairly cool temps and watched 'our' bird for a good 3/4 of an hour.Added a bit of colour back home.

We have had a couple of nice birds in the Isles over the past week. Had a couple round today to look at some paintings. Whilst they were here, I mentioned there had been at least 2 rose-coloured starlings in the county and that I had just missed the one in Stromness because I had to take the girls to the dentists - grrrr! They had been gone for precisely 12 minutes and I decided to get the washing up done. A bit of a commotion on the neighbours' ridge-tiles made me glance up to see a little line of 4 sparrows chirrping and tail-flicking - but I couldn't see at what. So I leaned over the sink a bit and there he was. I don't see many of these from the garden - so swiflty out with the scope. He stayed quite happlily for 3 or 4 minutes. Just long enough for a quickie or two.

Have been working on a large (full imperial sheet) watercolour. It's a celebration of one of my favourite species – Arctic Terns. I have been toying with the idea of having the picture a rainy one. I was trying for the clash of climate, you know, rain on a sunny day, but I'm not sure this pic is the one to do it on. There's already quite a lot going on and maybe this extra element is just too much. I finally decided to leave the rain, but there's a suggestion that it has only just left the scene, one or two drops still loitering.
This little colony of Arctic Terns means a huge amount to me personally. Orkney is world famous for its seabird colonies, however over the past few years they have suffered tragically, with not even a single tern chick being raised at all last year. This year every colony across the Isles has failed again! - except for this one. This tiny colony of approximately 80 adults and well-growing chicks stands like a bastion against the dismal news across the rest of the Isles. We're all hoping at least some of the chicks survive.Hence 'After the Rain' - not only in the climatalogical sense of the phrase, but also in the 'I Can See The Sunshine After The Rain', philosophical sense.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Settling In . . .

Well, we seem to be settling into our new home quite nicely now. Sally and I tend to occupy the ground floor (kitchen, dining room & office plus the garden and pier) whilst the kids maraud all over the upper two floors of the house. Edie can play her drum kit at full pelt in her bedroom and we can't hear a thing – thank god! Savannah's room, on the other hand, is directly above my workstation and – how could she? - plays HipHop at decebel levels which rival my own output as a teen listening to the mighty Quo, Led Zep, UFO and Thin Lizzy. How it all comes back to haunt me!
Leaving Lyrowall was always going to be a wrench, and I thought I would really miss the birdlife. Fortunately Orkney is blessed with an abundance of birds and we have them right on the doorstep (or chimney pots and ocean-garden). Gulls are ubiquitous, but I seem to have amassed my own little posse of about 30 herring, 2 lesser black-backed and 18 black-headed gulls. Each and every time I walk out of the back door and onto the pier, they circle me like expectant vultures, waiting for Clint Eastwood's latest victim.
On several occasions though, these common birds are usurped by some special creatures. Red-breasted margansers bring their new broods to dive for fish in the clear shallow waters, eider ducks (in various degrees of moult) clamour for all manner of sea creatures. This morning I watched a female emerge from a dive with a large velvet crab. She casually mauled the crab between her mandibles, effectively chewing its legs off. When all that remained was the carapace, she swallowed it – Nice!
Of all the birds which we see regularly here though, my most favourite are the red-throated divers (loons). Nowhere are these birds common, but we have had the very good fortune to see up to 9 in front of the house. Yesterday began with a real blow from the NE and, peering out of the very upstairs window I could only see two birds – a pair of red-throated divers, barely 3 yards from the end of the pier (effectively our garden). Stunning!
The eiders are a constant source of interest and entertainment and I have just completed a painting depicting these. It's unusual for me in that it's an oil – tricky medium, but most enjoyable. Other than this, haven't really had much time to get out at all, so have the sketch-shakes. Fortunately the girls found an item of some interest on their daily beach-comb – cormorant skull! I made a few measured drawings (after boiling the residue of its brief time at sea off of it – stink was terrible!) which will be of value at a later date.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

May is a very special month. And May 2008 has been, up to now, crammed with beautifully warm days, clear bright skies and, just recently, some rather interesting birds. Yesterday's hot news was the final confirmation that a Black Stork had been residing in these northern climes. First seen a few days ago, but not quite for long enough, or clearly enough for a 100% id confirmation, last night the original finder, Alan Leitch RSPB Mainland Reserves Warden) following his original hunch finally pinned the bird down as it decided to roost at Woodwick, Evie and good views were had by most folk (me excluded – unfortunately I didn't hear about it til this morning).
The news this morning included a Rustic Bunting – actually in the village we have just relocated from! - Ah well, the bird wasn't to know that. A brilliant find by Paul Higson and I decided the day would have to change course somewhat. With Sally at work at the ferry office doing a special ticket sales day for the Fair Isle daytrip (which I appear to have a ticket for – ahem!), I tempt the kids with the suggestion of a car trip around the county, a picnic on a sandy beach and the chance to see some of their old friends from the 'Hope.
Sandwiches made, pop and crisps packed, sketchbook, bins and scope loaded and away we go. The detour to Evie proved fruitless, except for the stunning drive and amazing scenery, but we arrive at our intended beach after another 40 minutes – 40 minutes crammed with the Greatest Hits of Queen which both Savannah (13) and Edie (6) are mad keen on. Sandwiches are wolfed down whilst I check out the little tern colony – 5 birds noted in the 20 minutes – then we had a wander along the shore. A fine little group of sanderling in various plumages from fine grey to blushing orange. Great birds! A rakish silhouette crossed the bay – dark morph Arctic Skua, followed by its big cousin – Bonxie. 80 eiders are a fine sight too and, I realise, the long-tailed ducks have finally departed for their breeding grounds. They seem to stay later each year (?).
We're now running out of time but I make the drive down to St Margaret's Hope, fingers crossed that the bunting will have decided to stay. On arriving at the site - opposite the doctors' surgery – I see four familiar faces, all looking in different directions. Is it still around, I enquire. I t appears that it has been around, but very elusive and 'crap views' were all anyone's had this afternoon. I tell the kids to behave and to sing Bohemian Rhapsody a little less enthusuastically and I take a wander up the lane, bins in hand. I spend ten minutes circling the tiny copse – a few nice birds are singing, including whitethroat, blackcap, greenfinch and chiffchaff, nice stuff. I then just pick up a very slight contact note – a bit like a little song thrush and there's my bird! He's just sitting in a willow, bold as brass and directly opposite my car with the kids headbanging in it! I retrace my steps, quieten the kids and get out my drawing gear. He's a little marvel and I spend 15 minutes enjoying his company, the dappled sunlight cascading through the canopy – chiffchaff and whitethroat singing and, every now and then, a subdued flutey refrain from the rustic bunting – his throat swelling and vibrating slightly as he performs.
The scene could have been in any wood (well 5 trees is a wood up here) in Britain, but I'm reminded starkly of where I live on the return drive. Speeding along the ayre which seperates Echna Loch from the sea and my attention is attracted by a kerfuffle in the corner of the loch. I can see a female mallard frantically mobbing a hooded crow, whilst an oystercatcher is going beserk over its head. As I draw level, the hoodie picks something up and starts to mangle it. It's a baby oystercatcher and, as always, a slightly sickening feeling hits me. The feeling doesn't last long – it's nature and that's what happens, but it's still gruesome to witness it. The kids don't notice anything – they're screaming at the top of their voices “. . . left alone with Big Fat Fanny – she was such a naughty nanny . . . “
Maybe I'll sneak out to look for the stork later on . . .

Monday, 19 May 2008

Home - In A Round-about Way . . .

Well, we made it! We have finally managed to complete the excruciatingly stressful sale of Lyrowall, purchase and then removal to Monivey, Stromness. And there's a tale to be told . . .
The sale of our fab beach-side cottage in South Ronaldsay happened really quickly. In fact, having decided that promoting the sale of my house via my website was pretty much a complete waste of time (I've never even sold a painting through that particular medium, so it was always a bit unlikely that I would sell a house that way!!!) and plumping for the time-tested method of using (arghhh!) Estate Agents, the house only took two weeks to sell. And that just before the market came a-crashing down. Very lucky, in many respects. The fact that the people buying the house liked my most recent acrylic painting (red-throated divers) may have helped. The fact that I mentioned that the painting could stay where it was IF their offer to buy the house was satisfactory, may also have have had an influence – whatever, they liked the place and we shook hands there and then.. We then put in an offer on a house in St Margaret's Hope (the local village) which was accepted immediately. We were later to find out why . . .
Calling in many favours, we got the offer officially approved and set a completion date for the purchase (the point of no return) and also persuaded the people buying our house to move that completion date forward so we could have the money from the sale in our account ready to pay for the new house. Tipperty-top!
However, we soon ran into a few problems. Our solicitors found out that as the house had flooded, we may not get insurance and, as it was built in the mid 1600s, it was also understandably listed. But what we didn't realise was that we couldn't even build a conservatory on it (essential due to the small size of the existing accommodation). The final straw came when we discovered the amount of grant aid which had gone into the renovation of the building – staggering. Unfortunaltely (or fortunately whichever way you look at it) my mate had been the agent for the renovation and, when I asked him for the keys to do some measuring up, his reply was - “No effer's getting the keys to that house until I get paid!”
“How much you owed, Paul?” I ask him. £38,000 was his reply.
The implications were immense for us and we, fairly understandably, pulled out immediately. Great, that leaves us with no-where to go and officially homeless in two weeks time.
We knocked on every door in the village for the chance to rent or buy . Nothing. Then Sally decided we would have to take a look at a house which I already knew. I did a painting for the owner last year, but I hadn't taken much notice when she (Helen) had told me it was going on the market. Anyway it had no land so what about the horse and chickens and our old boy Jacob the mongrel labXcollie – now 17 years old. Well, needs must and all that, so we went to see the house anyway – divine. Agonising decision to be made and heartbreakingly, Tessa, our Clydesdale, just has to go. We vet a couple of homes for her, but soon find the perfect home. She went within the week. Conveniently they also agreed to having the chickens too, so that left us without any livestock at all- the first time in a decade.
Our offer on the house was rejected! F*ck, f*ck, f*ck!!!
Nothing else to do, I'm afraid – so it was, with more than a little trepidation that we agreed we would have to stay with my Mother-In-Law until something came up, which at this rate could be quite some time.
Four days before we had to get out of the house, I receive a call from a friend. His ex-wife was friends with Helen, the girl selling the Stromness house. She's moved to Fife and could do with a quick sale and she is willing to be a bit more flexible with the price. Sally and I raid the kids piggy banks and look behind the cushions on the settee – nothing! Last resort and Sally phones her big sis for a little bit of help (we don't need much, but if you haven't got it, you just haven't got it!). She comes up trumps and we bang in a slightly higher offer – which Helen accepts!!! She even agrees to let us rent the house until the sale is finalised, but it still means a week with Ma-In-Law, but at least there's light at the end of the tunnel.
Two days before we have to be out of the house and, saddest thing – Jacob dies. He's very old and has deteriorated rapidly over the past ten days (I know how he feels). I actually think he knew we were off and just couldn't be arsed with it. So he stayed where he was and died. I buried him beside his little brother Oliver, who died last year (while I painted a little watercolour of a lapwing, to take my mind off his passing). They will lie side by side under the willow trees on a hillside garden in South Ronaldsay, hopefully forever. For the first time in over 17 years I don't have a mate to walking with – very strange feeling!
But life goes on and we have to get the kids organised with new house, new school and new friends – plus explaining that this also means leaving the old ones behind. Gradually they come round to the idea (they love the house, which is a real bonus) and Edie is now into her third week of school in Stromness. Today, however, Savannah's first day at the Academy! - Eeeek!
Staying at the MiL's house has some advantages. I get to sit under REAL trees and watch the rooks going about life. I have my sketchbook to help keep me sane during the few moments I am not charging between the two houses in a borrowed VW Transporter (with no tax, test or windscreen!) loading and unloading all our earthly possessions. Having John – the lovebird – around is also nice. I make a few drawings of him when it's quiet, partly for practice and partly because it's a bit silly seking out subjects to draw when there's a very coomliant one in a cage three feet away!
It takes six days to do the removal AND I'm working for the RSPB at the same time. I have never been so utterly sh*gged-out!
And, because Helen has been such a darling allowing us to rent the house (otherwise we would be still moving our stuff around Orkney) I offered to do her a painting to go with the one she commissioned last year. Sitting on the pier behind my telescope, can of lager in hand and sketchbook at the ready, a pair of red-throated divers cruised into view. They stayed for well over an hour and made excellent models for a few sheets of drawings. As they slid out of view I hurried inside and made an immediate watercolour of the pair. I'll send the finished picture to Helen tomorrow. The whole thing has a nicely wholesome feel to it.
And this story has a happy ending. We totally adore the new house and living in The Burgh of Stromness – Orkney's second largest settlement (2000 souls – a village really!) offers the opportunity to get my work out to a slightly wider public. There are common and Arctic terns fishing in front of the house, eiders, red-brested mergansers, shags and cormorants floating by, red-throated divers crackilng their nuptuals in broad daylight and, last year at this time, a pod of seven orcas just happened to make an appearance just off our pier, much to the delight of the human inhabitants of Stromness – not so the local Grey seal colony!
The kids seem at ease with the whole thing and I can walk to the pub(s)!!!
See you later . . .

Monday, 14 April 2008

Breeding birds and prospective homelessness

The birds are at it again and so I'm back to work, doing breeding bird surveys for the RSPB - Gawd Bless'um! Beautiful day today so, after returning from West Mainland, collecting kids and scoffing Sally's fab trout and tatties, had the best of the day looking at birds from the window. Some got sketched. It always amuses me to watch waders, when so thoroughly comfortable with the one leg tucked away, get disturbed and hop off on the one peg. I made a quick drawing as the oystercatcher did so and added some detail once it became stationary again.

I've also managed to squeeze in another of my regular commitments - illustrating the Orkney Bird report. The short-eared owl and the hooded crows are two drawings I made last week. The report is published in September (ish).

Most of the flock of shelducks which spend the early part of the year on the beach in front of the house have now dispersed to their respective breeding grounds. Just the two pairs remain which will, hopefully, raise broods here as they did last year. The colour-ringed shelduck has been traced back to the Eden Estuary, Fife. This bird is GN17699 ringed on the 6/3/05 at shelly spit on the Eden Estuary as a 5M. The record is apparently a cracking recovery. Many thanks to Alan Leitch, Kane Brides, Les Hatton (the original ringer and recorder) and Paul Higson for their sterling efforts in tracing this bird. I'll keep an eye out for him in future.

We thought we had solved our personal housing crisis and placed an offer on a beautiful old fisherman's cottage in the village. It dates back to approximately 1660! has beeen beautifully renovated and just about accommodates us and all our rubbish. We brought forward the completion date of the sale of our house so that we cold move quickly, only to find there is an anomaly regarding the house we want to buy. We have been advised to pull out of the purchase, but are already tied in to the sale date of our place. This means we are technically homeless on the 1st of May (Savannah's Birthday!). Ah well, the weather's picking up, so it's not too bad to be in a tent.