A note from our Editor, Louise Robinson
Welcome to my second blog post aimed at those of us for whom ‘going out’ now means leaving the sitting room. This week we’re bringing you even more activities, ideas and distractions to help you through these undeniably long days. Thank you so much for all your feedback so far – please keep it coming to firstname.lastname@example.org. I love hearing what you think, and I’m keen to hear all your suggestions.
At least the weather has been kind to most of us in the past week. I can’t be the only one who has marvelled at the sight of spring unfurling outside my ‘home office’ window (i.e. my kitchen!): the catkins, the finches, the first delicate blossom on our pear tree. All things I’m ashamed to admit I would barely notice in the distant days when we were all still going out!
Our friends at The Wildlife Trusts are going to update us on what’s happening in our gardens and outside our windows each week. This week: bumblebees.
Queen bumblebees have just come out of hibernation, so it’s a great time to practise your identification skills. The most common is the buff-tailed bumblebee, a large species with two golden stripes, and the queen’s tail is an off-white, buff-ish colour. You might see one scanning just above the ground, zig-zagging in search of a nice-looking hole leading to a dry space underground where she can establish her nest. (Nests are only active for a season and do no harm, so there is no need to remove them.)
You may also spot a red-tailed bumblebee. It’s an all-black beauty, but with a reddish-orangey bottom and one of the top seven most common species in our gardens. Common carder bees are brown all over, and later in the year you might notice them on the clover in your grass. The white-tailed bumblebee has a white tail and can be confused with the buff-tailed bumble, although its yellow stripes are more of a lemony-yellow.
When you’re trying to ID bumblebees, don’t be confused by the blobs on the hind legs – that’s the pollen the bumblebee has collected and it varies in colour, depending upon the plant they have visited.
"Everyone can do their bit for bumblebees,” says Wendy Carter, from Worcestershire Wildlife Trust. “Just a little dish with pebbles and a dash of water will be like a Serengeti watering hole!” Good spring flowers for bees are honesty, lungwort, cranesbill and crab apple, she says.
For more information on bees, download this PDF from the Wildlife Trusts' website.
Did you know a foraging bumblebee with a full stomach is only ever around 40 minutes from starvation? Or that there are between 40 and 200 bumblebee workers in a nest at its peak?
Check out the Wildlife Trusts’ webcams at www.wildlifetrusts.org/webcams. I’ve been watching Leamington Town Hall’s peregrines for a few days now: their third egg was laid last Tuesday (Mar 24). For maximum "ahh" factor, click on the Dorset barn owls: the fluffy little pair are busy preening and nesting, so fingers crossed for owlets soon.
On the box
I continue to obsess over Julian Fellowes’ wonderful costume drama Belgravia on ITV although I wasn’t too impressed by the rest of this week’s TV schedules. However, all is not lost. Saga Magazine’s TV reviewer Benjie Goodhart tells me that the BBC is in the process of adding tonnes of boxsets and old series to its iPlayer streaming service. Spooks, Waking the Dead, French and Saunders and The Honourable Woman are already there. My favourite ever Scandi detective Wallander went up last night [Monday March 30] and The Missing starring James Nesbitt and its spin-off Baptiste are up later today [Tuesday March 31].
While you’re on iPlayer, check out my new favourite show (sorry, Sir Julian) – CBBC’s adaptation of Enid Blyton’s boarding school series, Malory Towers published from 1946 – or "Downton for kids" as my husband put it, with the hint of an eye roll. Every girl has their own mind-picture of how Darrell, Sally, Alicia et al looked. Have the BBC cracked it? Let me know what you think.
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What’s the story?
Theatres and cinemas may be shut, but this stay-at-home stint has meant many of us are revisiting the culture at our fingertips, browsing our bookshelves and finally blowing the dust off those classics we’ve been meaning to read for decades. Or rereading the ones we dimly remember loving the last time we picked them up. I’ve started Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen for the first time since my O-level revision, which was rather a serious number of years ago. It’s the perfect distraction for turbulent times. A quick check round the Saga Magazine (virtual) office reveals I’m not the only one turning to Jane Austen: two colleagues are reading Emma. And Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy), The Great Gatsby (F Scott Fitzgerald) and David Copperfield (Charles Dickens) are all on colleagues’ bedside tables this week. As is the 1925 Scottish novel Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, a firm favourite of Saga Magazine sub-editor Jennie Buist. I must admit I had never heard of it, but Jennie has me intrigued. “It tells the story of a young woman growing up in a small rural community who finds love, but WWI begins and everything must change. Hope, tragedy and love – this book has it all. It's written in colloquial Scots but don't let that scare you off! It's an absolute joy.” I’d love to hear about your classic novel recommendations. Email me at email@example.com
I’ve always regarded myself as one of the few journalists without a novel in me, but if you feel you may have one in you, you’ll be interested to hear about the brand new King Lear Prizes. They’re to challenge people stuck at home to write poetry, drama, a short story or make art or music, with a £1,000 prize on offer in each category. The only rules are that you have to be over 70 and an amateur who hasn’t been published before. See kinglearprizes.org.uk for details. Why the name? Apparently when Shakespeare was in quarantine during a plague outbreak in 1605-6, he wrote King Lear. Now there’s something to aim for…
(Not) bye bye blackbird
I’m very much a rookie birdwatcher but enforced home working has made me eager for a little more knowledge. Caroline Offord at the RSPB has promised to give me a weekly mini-lesson on some of the birds we’ll be seeing in our gardens or outside our windows in the next few weeks. First: the blackbird.
Caroline says: “Blackbirds are members of the thrush family, and as we approach spring the male blackbird’s singing is likely to be the first birdsong you hear in the morning. These birds are often awake and alert before the robins, tits and finches as they have larger eyes, allowing them to see better at first light. They can also be fooled into thinking dawn has arrived by the presence of streetlights. This month blackbirds will begin nesting and laying eggs and can raise two, three or even four broods of chicks a year. Each time the female will lay three to five eggs, which hatch a couple of weeks later.” Check out their appearance and song at www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/identify-a-bird/
The RSPB has just launched its Breakfast Birdwatch between 8am and 9am on weekdays. The idea is share updates, pictures and videos of the species you’ve seen on social media with the hashtag #breakfastbirdwatch. I’ve decided not to share the picture I took of my usually lazy cat (unsuccessfully) stalking a robin yesterday at breakfast. Don’t worry Caroline, he’s never caught a bird yet.
Website of the week
Cosmic Shambles. Comedians and performers have banded together to launch a free online festival, with daily live-streamed appearances. So far we’ve had Brian Cox, Chris Hadfield, Les Dennis and Josie Long. Tonight (Tuesday Mar 31) at 8.30pm, there’s Vitriola Music with Al Murray, Robin Ince and others, and tomorrow at 10am watch out for The Stay at Home Show Show. Find it at www.cosmicshambles.com/stayathome
Exercise of the day: chest mobiliser
Part two of our whole-body guide to improve your flexibility, one area at a time. This exercise takes the tension out of your chest and shoulders and stretches your upper back, too.
1. Stand up straight, open your arms wide, tilt your head back and push your chest forwards. Take a deep breath in. (For an extra stretch, clasp your hands behind your bottom instead.)
2. Breathe out and as you do so nod your head to your chest, hold your arms straight out in front of you, holding one wrist with the other hand. Stretch your shoulders forwards and hunch your back.
3. Cycle through these two positions a few times; repeat through the day!
The latest from our ‘Use it or lose it’ team. Answers will be shared in next week’s newsletter. If you need them, of course.
1. Who was the first DJ to be heard on Radio 1?
a) Terry Wogan
b) Tony Blackburn
c) Jimmy Young
2. Which of these is 117 miles long?
a) Hadrian’s Wall
b) the M25
c) the River Thames
3. Which rock star once said: “Instead of getting married again, I’m going to find a woman I don’t like and just give her a house.”
a) Rod Stewart
b) Keith Richards
c) Phil Collins
4. How many years was Margaret Thatcher prime minister?
5. Which is the only American state to feature the Union Jack on its flag?
b) New England
6. Which of these has won the most Oscars?
a) Clint Eastwood
b) Jack Nicholson
c) Robert De Niro
7. How many bones are in the human body?
8. What is the tallest building in America?
a) The Empire State Building
b) The Willis Tower
c) One World Trade Center
9. Which of these has not received the Nobel Peace Prize?
a) Nelson Mandela
b) Mother Theresa
c) Mahatma Gandhi
10. Who won the men's singles title at Wimbledon in 1985 at the age of 17?
a) Andre Agassi
b) Boris Becker
c) Stefan Edberg
Well I never…
It’s April Fools’ Day tomorrow (Wednesday April 1) and while nobody is entirely certain of its origins, it’s thought it may be the result of a calendar change in 16th-century France when the new Gregorian calendar shifted New Year’s Day from April 1 to January 1. But not everyone was taken with the change and those who continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1 soon became the subject of ridicule and pranks, leading to the nickname ‘April fools’.
Word of the week
Ergophobia (noun): the persistent fear of or abnormal aversion to work.
There is a three-digit number.
The second digit is four times as big as the third digit.
The first digit is three less than the second digit.
What is the number? (Answer below – no cheating though!).
On that brain-bending note, stay safe and see you next time.
PS Here are the answers to last week’s quiz:
1. Liechtenstein and Uzbekistan.
2. On the Piccadilly Line – Hounslow East, Hounslow Central, Hounslow West, Hatton Cross, Heathrow Terminal 4, Heathrow Terminal 1,2 & 3, then back round the loop to Hatton Cross.
3. False. Iceland does indeed grow bananas (in greenhouses using geothermal energy) but Spain produces more (although that’s actually in the Canary Islands).
4. 59ft 2ins.
5. Marcia Williams (Lady Falkender), George Wigg, Joe Haines, Bernard Donoughue.
Today’s number crunching answer: 141