Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Foxes sunbathing in autumn

Foxes are "supposed" to be nocturnal, but it is common to see them during the daytime. I generally see them until about mid morning, and then they reappear late afternoon. Now that it is autumn, I often see them sunbathing on shed roofs during the morning right through to lunchtime.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Harvest moon Oct 2017

The beautiful full moon on 5th October 2017 is known as the Harvest Moon. A Harvest Moon is a full moon closest to the autumn equinox. The equinox this year was 22 Sept. The harvest moon is more common in September than October.

It was a nice clear sky in southern England and forecast to be a cold night with maybe the first frost of the autumn.

The next full moon will be the Hunters Moon.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The last Malaysian F1 at Sepang

I've just watched the last Malaysian F1 at Sepang from the comfort of my sofa. It is the final F1 at the Sepang circuit. The first Grand Prix in Malaysia took place in 1999 and was held at the end of the season. In 2001 it was moved to the beginning and was usually the 2nd race of the season, in March, after Australia.

In 2007 Bernie Ecclestone, the F1 president, stated that the environs around the circuit were getting shabby from lack of care, and mentioned the rubbish in the area. However the contract was extended. Malaysia then wanted a night race, after Singapore started theirs in 2008. The F1 organisers didn't agree to this but instead agreed a late afternoon start time, 5pm. However that didn't work out due to heavy rain and darkness. In 2016 it was changed back towards the end of the season, to early Oct.

From Wikipedia : In April 2017 it was announced that the 2017 race would be the last time the event would be held at Sepang. The race's contract was due to expire in 2018, but its future had been under threat due to rising hosting fees and declining ticket sales. Malaysia’s youth and sports minister at the time Khairy Jamaluddin said on Twitter: ”I think we should stop hosting the F1. At least for a while. Cost too high, returns limited. When we first hosted the F1 it was a big deal. First in Asia outside Japan. Now so many venues. No first mover advantage. Not a novelty.” The BBC reported that "Malaysia had struggled in recent years to attract a significant crowd, its appeal damaged by the more glamorous night-time event on a street track in Singapore."

I first went in 2003. Although by international standards, tickets for the Malaysian F1 are remarkably cheap, my group of friends chose to sit on the hill slope, which was the cheapest ticket. This meant we were exposed to the blazing sun, the heat and humidity, and perhaps rain. But it was good fun. Kimi Räikkönen driving for McLaren-Mercedes won.

2004 was almost a repeat of 2003 for us.

We had a good view as Ralf Schumacher's car was taken away with engine failure

Michael Schumacher won in his Ferrari.

I did a blog in 2013.

My last visit was March 2015. Temperatures on race day were very hot, with the track temperature at 61 °C .

2 British drivers -

Helicopters have a parking area by the circuits stands. The Weststar helicopter (I know the owner)

Fernando Alonso before the race

Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari, he went on to win the 2015 race -

Jenson Button waiting to get into his McLaren-Honda -

Kimi Räikkönen in his Ferrari

Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes -

As mentioned above, the last F1 race at Sepang was 1 Oct 2017. Taken from Yahoo sports : "Sepang was the first F1 circuit to spring from the pencil of controversial uber-designer Hermann Tilke and it may well have been his best effort.

The layout is instantly recogniseable, with two huge straights slicing into the infield area.

The track itself is a wide beast, encouraging drivers to experiment with different race lines – particularly useful if Sepang is hit by one of those traditional Malaysian downpours.

But all of this hasn’t been enough to encourage the Malaysian government to keep bankrolling F1 and it’s not really surprising.

Tickets are good value here… and that’s because the local demand simply isn’t there. Of course, F1 is all about attracting a global audience but, despite having 1.5 million Kuala Lumpur residents just down the road, Malaysia has never shown any signs of taking F1 to its heart."

The end of an era. I'm extremely glad I was able to go to several F1 races over the years.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Autumn equinox 2017

22 September 2017 - the first day of autumn and the autumn equinox.

“Equinox” (equal night) is when the sun spends the same amount of time above and below the horizon with the tilt of the Earth exactly the same so it is not slanted away or towards the sun, thus making the hours of darkness and light equal.

“Solstice,” (sun stands still) is when the sun stops before reversing its direction causing sunlight to reach the southernmost and northernmost extremes of the Earth and providing them with longer nights and days.

Both an equinox and solstice happen twice each year. An equinox happens at a specific moment in time unlike the solstice which happens in days.

The solstice happens during summer and winter when the sun is the farthest away. The summer solstice is when days of sunlight are the longest, and the winter solstice is when the days of darkness are also the longest.

The equinox happens during the start of autumn and spring, the time when the sun is closest to the equator.

Having said that, there are still different ideas as to when autumn starts. It depends whether you follow the meteorological or astronomical calendar. There's three weeks difference between them both.

In meteorological terms autumn begins on September 1 and ends on November 30. The meteorological calendar uses the Gregorian calendar to split up the four seasons into three month blocks, which, according to the Met Office, makes it easier to observe forecasting and compare seasonal statistics.

Spring: March, April, May
Summer: June, July, August
Autumn: September, October, November
Winter: December, January, February

However the astronomical calendar says autumn starts on Sept 22 this year. Astronomers base the date of the seasons upon celestial events, in autumn's case the autumnal equinox, when night and day are roughly equal length.

It was mostly a miserable summer in the UK weatherwise. The decent weather left after mid July and the rest of the summer was generally cool, cloudy and wet, with the exception of the August bank holiday weekend (28 Aug). There was an autumnal feel the last 2 weeks of August, with the nights drawing in, cooler air and a few leaves turning brown. Blackberries were ready in July, which is particularly early.

By the autumn equinox, although it felt autumnal, it still looked mostly like summer, as few trees had started to turn brown. 22 Sept in London was beautifully sunny with a clear blue sky.

The exception to this is the 'conker trees'. Many of the horse chestnut trees have a disease caused by a fungus, Guignardia aesculi. It is known as Guignardia leaf blotch, as it shows as brown blotches on the leaves and as seems to be the case, the whole leaf turns brown. The horse chestnut or conker trees have been turning brown since July, due to the blotch, not autumn. The conkers started falling around the end of August.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Shirley windmill

I was quite surprised to learn last year that there are windmills in London. There is one in the southwest at Wimbledon, one at Brixton in south London, at Upminster in east London and one at Shirley. They are reminders that London once was an area for agriculture and food production. So it is not just Amsterdam that has windmills!

I have plans to visit all these windmills although the Upminster one is currently closed for renovation. The first windmill I visited was at Shirley. Shirley is a town near Croydon, it used to be in Surrey but now comes under Greater London.

The friends of Shirley windmill hold open days a few times a year and I finally managed to go to one.

The approach is now through a modern housing area

It is the only surviving windmill in the Croydon area but is not the original. The original mill was built in 1808 and was a timber post mill but was destroyed by fire in 1854. A new tower mill was built and was used until 1890 when it was declared nonviable and was abandoned. It may well have been the last large windmill ever built in Surrey.
Models of a post mill and a tower mill -

Over the years the mill deteriorated, having been struck by lightning in 1899 and again in 1906. The first attempt at restoration was in 1927. In the 1950s the mill was threatened with demolition when the John Ruskin School was built, but it was protected. In 1996 the London Borough of Croydon (who now own the mill) received a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (£218,000) and this money helped to restore the mill to near-working order. The mill was then opened to the public.

The sails today are shorter than they would have been on the working mill and also they haven't been filled in, when the mill was working they would have looked like those on the model above, which can be opened or closed according to the wind.

The cap or top of the mill looks like a boat -

Shirley mill is five storeys tall. The tour starts at the top floor, where there are nice views towards Crystal Palace and central London -

The top floor is the dust floor, named from the dust in the air. This is the engine house of the mill as this is where the wind provides the power to drive the machinery. The shaft that is turned by the sails moves the gears. See more here.

Below is the bin floor, where the sacks of grain were stored. Then the stone floor, where the millstones are located which were used to grind the grain. These have been restored. They are made from fresh water quartz. Nowadays millstones are generally made from steel, due to the fact that bits of stone get into the flour. The stone masons tools can be seen, the stones had to be constantly balanced.

Then the  meal floor. The ground grain is sent down and is put into sacks and then loaded onto wagons. There are a few exhibits at the ground level and throughout the mill are meccano models which adds a nice touch. There is also a small information centre in a separate building.

See more on Shirley windmill on the official site.

I'm now curious to see the other windmills in London.

-  -


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Somerset House in London

I have been past Somerset House in London hundreds of times and yet I know very little about the place. In fact all I know is that it used to house the records of Births, Deaths and Marriages and the general public could go there to access the records. The General Register Office where those records were kept moved out of Somerset House in 1970, having been there since 1836. The only other thing I knew is that in winter there is a public ice skating area in the fountain court; I went along one year, not to skate but just to watch.

Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court -

Very recently I learnt that Somerset House used to be a palace for 3 queens. I also found out there are free tours available. I went along for a tour, only to find there was no guide that day, but I was given a self guided leaflet.

See the official site for the complete history and old photos and pictures. Here is a short history -
1547 Edward Seymour, Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset, started building a palace for himself on the banks of the Thames. He was executed at the Tower of London 5 years later and ownership of the almost completed palace passed to the Crown. The palace was actually closer to the Thames than the present building.

Princess Elizabeth moved to Somerset House in 1553 and lived there until she was crowned Queen Elizabeth I in 1558.

3 queens then lived in the palace -

1. Anne of Denmark, wife of James I of England (James VI of Scotland). During her time the house was renamed Denmark House in her honour. The Treaty of London which ended the 19-year Anglo-Spanish War, was negotiated and signed at Denmark House in 1604. The famous architect Inigo Jones redesigned parts of the building for Anne, until she died in 1619. Inigo Jones died in the house in 1652.

2. The next queen to live there was Henrietta Maria of France, wife of King Charles I. In the 1640s the house was taken over as the headquarters for the Parliamentary Army during the the English Civil War. The war ended in 1649 and Charles I was executed. Charles II was crowned king and his mother, Henrietta Maria returned to Denmark House in 1660. In 1665 when the Plague raced through London, Henrietta Maria moved back to France where she died in 1669. A year after the plague, in 1666 the Great Fire of London destroyed much of the City of London, but stopped just short of Denmark House.

3. The last royal to live in the house was Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II. She stayed there until 1693 and during that time, Sir Christopher Wren was responsible for more construction and renovation work.

That was the end of the royals. From the 1700s Somerset House was used as offices, apartments, stables etc. In 1779 The Royal Academy of Arts moved into the North Wing, followed by the Society of Antiquaries a year later. The south, east and west wings were then added. The Navy Board and Stamp Office moved in. The latter taxed newspapers and printed documents. The new Somerset House was complete by 1801.

The Royal Academy and Royal Society both moved out later, also the Admiralty, and the Inland Revenue moved in.

In recent decades The Courtauld Institute of Art moved in, and by 2000 the river terrace was open, and the first ice rink was made. The place has been used for London fashion week and other art groups. The Inland Revenue, now known as HMRC moved out in 2011.

Today Somerset House is used as an arts centre.

Looking from the North Wing towards the South and the West (right) wing. The King George III statue is hidden behind the lamp post, and Father Thames sits below the king.

The West Wing -

Looking towards the North Wing and The Strand entrance -

Entrance to the South Wing and Seamen's Hall -

The Seamen's Hall was the entry to the Navy Office. The Nelson Stairs led up to the Navy area and were frequently used by the Nelson brothers. The stairs were restored after bomb damage in 1940 -

Looking at the entrance to the South Wing from the Victoria Embankment terrace -

Maybe next time I go to Somerset House will be in the winter to watch the ice skating again.