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Stonehenge at sunset

#notgoingoutclub blog 16 June 2020

A note from our Editor, Louise Robinson

Hello and welcome to the thirteenth post on the #NotGoingOutClub blog. It’s an odd time, isn’t it? With more shops now open, and outdoor visitor attractions throwing open their doors, life should start to feel a little bit more normal for most of us. But somehow, it doesn’t feel even ‘new normal’ yet. I still get a jolt of oddness standing in a socially distanced queue to buy a pint of milk, or seeing people at the bus stop with face masks on.

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However, at least we are able to get outside and see people again, even at a distance. One of my favourite moments this weekend was going out with my daughters to meet up with my friend and her daughter (yes, two metres apart) for a picnic. We didn’t share food, utensils or rugs but it felt like we were sharing good times again. If you need an excuse, it’s Picnic Week next week (22-28 June). Doesn’t everything taste better eaten outside on a blanket (or deckchair for those of us with dodgy knees)?

If you need some inspiration, take a look at these tasty food ideas from Saga Magazine.

Missed last week’s blog? Read it here

Picnic basket and food on a sunny day in the park

Loos in lockdown

One thing that urgently does need to return to normal is public loos. And because cafes and pubs are shut, we can’t even ‘borrow’ their facilities. Reader Valerie Jenkins wrote to say, “like many older people I need to plan my trips around loo visits, but as most of the council toilets in my area are still closed, I feel I can’t get out much beyond my local streets which seems so unfair.”

Provision varies depending on where you live, but for many people with medical conditions, having no public loos means they can’t even think about getting out and about. It was bad enough before lockdown, with councils closing facilities due to cutbacks, but now it’s a whole new level of bad. As Sarah Hollobone from the charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK says, “it’s not acceptable to push people with chronic conditions further into the shadows and heighten their isolation at a time when staying connected and healthy is harder than ever before.” Well said.

Website of the week: Stonehenge Skyscape

Just in case you’re an early riser (or like me have a lockdown puppy whose enthusiasm for life often begins around 4.30am) you may like to know that it’s the summer solstice this weekend. At 4.52am precisely on Sunday (June 21), the sun will rise over the Heel Stone on the edge of Stonehenge and illuminate the whole stone circle, just as it has for millennia. This year, though, there won’t be the usual assortment of druids and pagans. Instead, we’re invited to watch the sun rise live – from about 3.30am at It’s a great website: during the day you can see the sky live to within 5 minutes, and click on the Skyscape button to see the position of the moon, sun and planets. At night, the view switches to a computer model of the position of the stars and the five visible planets.

Stonehenge at sunset

Castles ahoy!

Stonehenge might be out of bounds for the summer solstice, but it’s on the list of English Heritage sites to re-open in early July, alongside Tintagel Castle, Pevensey Castle, Chester Roman Amphitheatre and 39 other sites. Even better, six sites opened on Saturday (13 June) for pre-booking – Beeston Castle, Cheshire; Brodsworth Hall, Yorkshire; Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire; Old Sarum, Wiltshire; Wrest Park, Bedfordshire; and Battle Abbey, Sussex. Get the full list here.

Wildlife watch: Is it a swallow or a swift?

Actually, the aerial acrobat you can see high in the summer sky could also be a house martin as all three are similar in outline. Ben Stammers from North Wales Wildlife Trust offers some clues to tell them apart:

  • Swallows have a rusty-red face and throat, a black band across their chest, creamy-white underparts and long, deeply forked tail feathers. Their upper colouration is a gorgeously glossy, dark blue.
  • House martins (below) are the ones most commonly mistaken for swallows. If you look closely, they are smaller, stockier birds, completely white underneath and with shorter forked tails and white rumps and chins.
  • Swifts are often grouped with swallows and martins (collectively known as hirundines), but, remarkably, they’re more closely related to hummingbirds. Swifts feed higher up in the air too, at around 50-100m. They’re a uniform dark brown all over, have slender, scythe-shaped wings and a distinctive pale throat patch.

Enjoy planning future wildlife spotting adventures with The Wildlife Trusts.

Common house martin in flight

Feathers fly

With more news of our feathered friends, the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust’s six centres in England are open again to visitors, although you need to book your place online. Numbers are restricted and the play areas, cafes and shops remain closed. The sites in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland are still shut. In the meantime, catch up with the latest sightings here.

On the box

Assuming you haven’t had enough of medical matters just from watching the news, Channel 4’s hit series 24 Hours in A&E is back tonight at 9pm. Even after 20 series – yes, this is number 21, folks – it manages to feel compelling and fresh. And of course, it’s never really about the medical matters, but about the stories, lives and loves of the people who find themselves at casualty’s door…

Also returning on Channel 4 (tomorrow, Wednesday, 9pm) is George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces. This is ‘only’ series 9, so it’s a mere minnow in the TV schedules. Never mind about the couple building a disappearing bathroom, or George’s plans to build an observatory, I just want to hear about the man squeezing a camper van into a Reliant Robin. Now that’s good TV.

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Bird of the week: woodpigeon

Does anyone else suffer with woodpigeons sitting on the chimney at all hours and waking you up with their incessant cooing? Ours have worked out that if they coo into the chimney, they can use it like a giant hi-fi speaker. Unlike me, Caroline Offord at the RSPB has a soft spot for these comedic birds. She insists that their waddling walk doesn’t mean they’re overweight. “In fact, the weight of all their feathers combined is greater in weight than their skeleton,” she tells me.

The other interesting thing about woodpigeons is how they drink. Unlike other garden birds, who scoop up water and throw their heads back to allow the water to drop down their throats, woodpigeons suck up the water using their beak as a straw. Numbers of these waddling wonders are rising, and they now occupy 4th place as the most commonly seen garden bird in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch rankings.

Closeup of a woodpigeon

This week’s sofa culture

  • Due to lockdown, the V&A’s latest blockbuster exhibition on the kimono shut just two weeks after opening – so few people saw the intricate embroidered creations that became the principle piece of clothing in 16th century Japan. The museum has released five virtual tours of this gorgeous exhibition led by curator Anna Jackson.

National Theatre London entrance sign

  • Another barnstormer from the National Theatre this week – catch Mark Gatiss in the Nottingham Playhouse production of Alan Bennett’s award-winning drama The Madness of King George III until 7pm Thursday 18 June. Then from 7pm, to celebrate Windrush Day 2020, the NT is streaming its epic, sold-out performance of Small Island. This adaptation of Andrea Levy’s novel about Jamaica’s shared history with Britain through the stories of four wartime characters is a must watch.

That’s it from me this week, don’t forget to get in touch and tell me what you’ve been up to: email, and write ‘Not Going Out Club’ in the subject line. Stay safe,

Louise Robinson's photo and signature


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